How to Ensure Your Data Science Is Inclusive

October 16, 2019

Tanzania-citizen-priorities-767The potential of data science to support, measure, and amplify sustainable development is undeniable. And as public, private, and civic institutions around the world come to recognize the role that data science can play in advancing growth, an increasingly robust array of efforts aimed at fostering data science in lower-income countries has emerged.

This phenomenon is particularly salient in sub-Saharan Africa, where foundations are investing millions in building data literacy and data science skills; multilaterals and national governments are pioneering new investments in data science, artificial intelligence, and smart cities; private and public donors are investing in data science centers and local data science talent; and local universities are launching graduate-level data science courses.

Despite this progress (and the attendant hype) lurks an inconvenient truth: As a new generation of data scientists emerges in Africa, there is relatively little trusted, accurate, and accessible data available to them.

We often hear how data science can be used to help teachers tailor curricula according to student performance, but the fact remains that many school systems on the continent don't collect or track performance data with enough accuracy and timeliness to perform data science–enabled tweaks. Many firmly believe that data science can help us identify disease outbreaks early, but healthcare facilities often lack the patient data and digital capabilities needed to surface those clues.

Fundamental data gaps like these invite a question: Precisely what data do data scientists need to advance sustainable development?

There are, of course, compelling examples of data science being put to use for the public good. Emerging use cases include exploring call detail records to improve mobility and urban planning, using remote sensors to measure agricultural or economic growth, and mining online content to monitor election violence. These and other examples prove beyond a doubt that data science has a role to play in advancing sustainable development.

But obtaining call detail records requires time, money, and (often) political connections. Online content (like tweets) typically reflects the views of the relatively small number of people in lower-income countries who have Internet access and avail themselves of social media platforms. Even though we're working hard to make data science accessible to everyone, data scientists are left to work with information that remains either inaccessible to most technologists or is unrepresentative of the most marginalized populations.

The lack of good data has consequences. As leaders and influencers increasingly rely on data science to guide their decision-making, they risk making decisions that ignore the needs, perspectives, and values of the people they serve who are not online (more than half the world's population), or who don’t use a mobile device (which are used more by men than by women).

They also risk disenfranchising a new generation of African data scientists who lack the financial resources to access large and reliable datasets, or who have to watch as better-funded organizations an ocean away — for example, universities in the Global North — conduct data science and analytics focused on their communities.

The good news? There are steps we can take that will help data science achieve its full potential in the realm of sustainable development. Here are three:

1. Be wary of encouraging a generation of data scientists who must rely on expensive, hard-to-access data in order to meaningfully apply their skills. We should couple our data science training with efforts that build data collection skills through methods such as community mapping or data-sharing initiatives like data collaboratives.

2. Be conscious of the risk of reinforcing dependencies on companies whose technologies, platforms, and datasets comprise the bulk of data science case studies. We should intentionally pair our investments in data science with investments in indigenous innovations that produce data for data science. Low-cost, locally-built technologies such as unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and initiatives that produce locally relevant training datasets can help mitigate such dependencies.

3. Be mindful of focusing too much on data science and not enough on data literacy. We should double down on building fundamental data skills — collecting, cleaning, analyzing, sharing — within health clinics, schools, and local government agencies, where so much valuable information is actually produced. Doing so will improve the availability and reliability of large datasets for use by homegrown data scientists.

Fortunately, momentum is beginning to shift in favor of indigenous data science. Entrepreneurs are rolling out innovations designed to address language gaps. Initiatives such as Data Science Africa and Deep Learning Indaba are nurturing communities of machine-learning experts. These are steps in the right direction.

Five years from now, a new generation of socially-conscious impact-driven African data scientists will have emerged, and many of them will be driven to use their skills to address sustainable development challenges. We must ensure that the information that powers their efforts isn't limited to expensive, inaccessible, or unrepresentative data that sits primarily in the hands of a few mobile operators, banks, or tech companies.

Getting there means complementing the hype of data science for global good with the long, difficult work of improving data quality at the local level, investing in indigenous technology and content, and investing in fundamental data skills. Only then will the data science revolution be primed to achieve its full potential.

Samhir Vasdev is an advisor for digital development at IREX's Center for Applied Learning and Impact. A version of this post originally appeared on the IREX website.

This Is America

October 15, 2019

America and MomAmerica, my youngest cousin, started college in August. She is the daughter of undocumented immigrants who came to the United States with hopes of building a new life, a life better than the one offered by their home country, Mexico. America was born in the U.S. and is a dedicated student. She has committed herself to studying hard because she wants to fulfill her dreams and her parents' dreams — dreams for which they have sacrificed much. By graduating from high school, America is one step closer to her dream. This is her story, but it's also the story of hundreds of thousands of low-income first-generation students of color who dream of success and fight against odds and unfamiliar systems to keep their dream (and their families' dreams) alive.

For many students like America, the path to a college degree is difficult. According to the Public Policy Institute of California, state funding for higher education has declined as a share of the budget over the past four decades while tuition has tripled at both the UC and CSU systems over the past twenty years. A 2018 study by the Institute for Higher Education Leadership & Policy at Cal State Sacramento found that a large majority of community college students fail to obtain a degree or transfer to a four-year institution. The same study found large disparities between minority and Caucasian students, with only 26 percent of African-American students and 22 percent of Latino students earning a degree or certification or successfully transferring to a four-year university within six years. That's compared to 37 percent of Caucasian students. In 2018, the CSU system reported that only 25 percent of first-time freshmen finished in four years, while only 38 percent of transfer students attained their degree in two years. Although California spends more on financial aid per Pell Grant recipient than any other state, it's clear that more needs to be done to assist the 48 percent of students who identify as students of color and the 41 percent who are first-generation college-goers. Simply put, they face more barriers to college completion than other students. Indeed, according to CSU's 2018 Basic Needs Study, students who identified as black/African-American and as the first in their families to attend college experienced the highest rates of food insecurity (65.9 percent) and homelessness (18 percent) of any group. All these students, like America, deserve a level playing field and a fair shot at success.

East Los Angeles

America is a hopeful teenager who aspires to become a lawyer. She graduated from my alma mater, James A Garfield High School in East L.A. Think El Mercadito, Oscar de la Hoya, Whittier Boulevard. Think Stand and Deliver, the story of Jaime Escalante (played by Edward James Olmos in the movie). Yeah, that East L.A. and that Garfield High School. That's the environment in which America grew up.

East L.A. is an amazing community, but it faces many challenges, including a more than 22 percent poverty rate, nearly double the national average. It also struggles with low educational attainment, with only 8.3 percent of the population holding a bachelor's degree or higher. Forty-three percent of the population possess no degree at all. The neighborhood is also plagued by gangs and gang-related violence. My niece is living proof, however, that East L.A. is still a place where resilience and persistence can lead to success and the American dream.

America's Family and the Challenges of Financial Aid

After spending her childhood and teen years in East L.A., America was accepted at UC Merced. While not her first choice, the school offered the best financial aid package. Neither her mom nor dad received high school diplomas, and when America was applying to colleges they struggled to navigate a system they were not familiar with. Despite the challenges, all the necessary financial aid documents were completed and submitted.

America's financial aid package included $5,500 in loans. Of that, America and her parents decided to accept only $1,000, opting to figure out how to source the remaining $4,500 on their own. Although $5,500 might seem affordable, it's only a best-guess as to what is needed for the first year, and no one knows whether the amount will change in year two, three, or four. In addition, $5,000 of America's financial aid package was tied to work study. If she chose not to work, then the $4,500 already picked up by her family would balloon to $9,500. America's family's annual income is $30,000. And it gets more complicated when you consider that America's parents also pay $2,000 a year for her older sister to attend East Los Angeles College.

In her book Paying the Price: College Costs, Financial Aid, and The Betrayal of the American Dream, Sara Goldrick-Rab examines the conundrum faced by first-generation college students who apply for financial aid. In the book, Goldrick-Rab details a study conducted by the Wisconsin HOPE Lab that asked 1,110 students how long it took them to complete financial aid paperwork. Almost a third (29 percent) said it took them one to two hours to complete, while 20 percent said it required more than two hours, with one in three of those students saying the person who helped them complete the paperwork had not attended college. Such was the case for America. "Si, un monton de papeleo, nunca en mi vida me habian pedido tanto papeleo," America's mom told me. ("Never in my life have I been asked for so many documents.")

Fulfillment of a Dream

In July, America excitedly told her parents that UC Merced had invited her to a new student orientation. Her parents were quick to ask why it cost $100 per person to attend. They asked me, her cousin, to go with them because, as America's dad said, "Pues es que no conocemos por alla," ("We're unfamiliar with stuff over there.") I gladly accepted and headed out with them on a Friday afternoon for the Saturday session. The trip came at an opportune time. As a program officer at the Michelson 20MM Foundation, I work on issues of access, success, and affordability for underrepresented college students, with a focus on students struggling with basic needs

When we finally got to Merced, America and her parents were bright eyed, taking in a new landscape and imagining how America soon would be making it her home. They were excited for her and glad for the opportunity to familiarize themselves with the drive, knowing they would be coming up to bring their daughter home for the holidays and other occasions. America gently reminded them she only planned to come home twice a year. I didn't attend the orientation, as I figured it would be good for America and her parents to experience the day on their own.

When I picked them up, they were beaming with optimism and ready to share everything they had learned. Like any good recap at a gathering of Mexicans, they started by describing the food. But the question they were most interested in hearing an answer to was whether UC Merced took attendance and whether the school would notify parents if their daughter stopped attending classes. They knew America was bound to grow increasingly independent, but they also felt it would be good policy for UC Merced to communicate with parents in such situations. America laughed — not out of frustration but in appreciation of her parent's "old schoolness" and the love they were demonstrating by readily accepting things they didn't fully understand but knew would be good for her.

America started UC Merced last month and is beyond excited. She embraces her status as an underdog and relishes the challenge. More than anything, she does so because she's seen her parents beat the odds to give her the opportunity. If you drive through East L.A. today, you'll see eight-foot-high banners on lampposts lining major thoroughfares like Atlantic Boulevard. In 2016, Garfield H.S., in partnership with local businesses, educational organizations, and elected officials, obtained permits to display pictures of Garfield graduates holding the pennants and wearing the sweaters of the colleges they were leaving home to attend. At the top of each banner it reads "Garfield is college bound," while across the bottom it says "The pride of East L.A." America is on one of those banners, and her parents could not be prouder.

In the months and years to come, America and her family, like many other first-generation low-income students of color and their families, will navigate unfamiliar new systems together, tread new paths together, laugh at what they don't understand together, and most likely cry whenever they are not together. For now, they happily cling to their recent victory, America's high school graduation and the memory of their embrace after America walked across the stage to receive her diploma.

What's in a hug for America's parents at graduation? Sighs of relief after years of sacrifice. Memories of a border crossing filled with fear that led to an indescribable moment of joy. The fulfillment of a dream that first took shape in a small town in Mexico, thousands of miles away, and seemingly thousands of years ago. The satisfaction of knowing that waking up at 4:00 a.m. every day, day after day, to work a low-paying job was worth it. The satisfaction of knowing that in four years, despite the challenges, "primeramente Dios," ("God willing"), they'll be waking up at 4:00 a.m. to drive up the 99 freeway to see their daughter walk across another stage.

Miguel_leon_for_PhilanTopicMiguel León is a program officer at the Michelson 20MM Foundation.

Texas Border Families Fuel a Network to Build Power and Equity

October 11, 2019

Rio-grande-valleyIf you're familiar with the Rio Grande Valley and listen to the rhetoric out of Washington, D.C., you know it has nothing to do with the reality lived by most families in the region.

Even as the national spotlight continues to cast its glare on the border, a collective yearning for human dignity, civil rights, and community progress is building in the valley, which is home to more than 1.3 million people. Sadly, the aspirations of the people who live there — and the region's vibrancy — are easy to overlook.

What you won't learn from listening to the president and his supporters is that the region is home to a grassroots movement driven largely by Latinx families comprised of both U.S. citizens and immigrants that for years has been advocating for solutions to problems created by decades of structural poverty and a lack of equitable access to financial resources.

Families in the region know better than anyone how public policies create progress and economic opportunity — or fail to. Poverty and intolerance, they will tell you, are blocking human potential — and creating costs for all of us. At the same time, dignity and compassion continue to be core values of the region's residents as they organize for social change and better lives.

"This is a moment where people can see beyond themselves," says Martha Sanchez, organizing coordinator for farmworker and civil rights organization La Unión del Pueblo Entero (LUPE). "Hate is not healthy for anybody. We need to look more deeply."

A Philanthropic Network Amplifies the Voices of Families

Central to this movement-building work, community and family leaders say, is the Rio Grande Valley Equal Voice Network, a multi-issue coalition of Marguerite Casey Foundation grantees and allies. It is among fifteen regional networks the foundation and its grantees started. (The foundation, which has invested more than $7 million in the Equal Voice Network model, also supports the Native Voice Network and a youth-led network).

 

The network is an incubator of sorts where low-income families can meet, voice ideas, and focus collectively on bottom-up, community-led policy solutions.

Grassroots leaders in the region will also tell you that the Marguerite Casey Foundation, which has been investing in community organizations in the Rio Grande Valley since 2003, is one of the few philanthropic funders to issue sizable, multiyear general support grants to nonprofits in support of family-led movement building. Those dollars are used by grantees as they see fit in their efforts to alleviate poverty and promote equity in the valley. As we like to think, that support represents both philanthropic trust and movement building in action.

"We try to be a regular presence, to see how we can connect organizations with other ones. It's about being a bridge," says Christina Patiño Houle, the Rio Grande Valley Equal Voice Network weaver, a role akin to a coordinator or facilitator. "What we provide is convening space. The network provides the focus of pulling people in so they're in conversation."

The network is comprised of eight foundation grantees in the valley and approximately twenty allied nonprofit organizations, many of them also based in the region.

Because network members are in regular contact with Rio Grande Valley residents and the focus is on grassroots movement building, local, state and U.S. government officials — including elected ones — make it a point to stay in frequent communication with the organizations and their leaders.

"It's a testament to the network's ability to mobilize people," says Patiño Houle.

Network members meet regularly to discuss the well-being of families in the region, which boasts more than forty-five cities and hundreds of unincorporated neighborhoods known as colonias.

While the issue of immigration touches all network members in some way, families say there is more to life in Hidalgo, Cameron, Willacy and Starr counties than what is happening at the U.S.-Mexico border: families are fighting to secure healthy, stable, and safe communities, quality education for their children, and peace and prosperity. So when network members meet in working groups, they also focus on jobs, housing, civic engagement, education, and health.

Out of that collective focus comes passion-inspired efforts aimed at creating positive social change. Families are at the vanguard of these efforts.

The work often starts at one nonprofit organization, which then spreads the word to other network members. Or it can emanate from weeks or months of brainstorming after a group of network members have heard from families about the steps needed to go forward. The network also amplifies the work of its partner organizations.

Families Honor Asylum Seekers — by Dancing

The morning before Mother's Day is muggy and overcast near Edinburg, a Rio Grande Valley city about twenty-five miles from the border. At Sunflower Memorial Park, in the flatlands off state Route 107, the inviting rhythm of Mexican-Caribbean music blares from loudspeakers.

Under a metal shelter, about ninety people — nearly all women — are wearing workout clothing, shuffling left then right, hips twisting freely and arms waving to the beat of cumbia and reggaeton. It looks like a normal exercise class at a local gym, but nearby are Maria Campos, her daughters, and about fifteen cardboard boxes full of goods.

Before participants start dancing, they hand Campos and her children toothpaste, toothbrushes, soap, pasta, canned food, blankets and clothing.

The donated items will go to asylum seekers and others who were recently released from federal immigration facilities and are now waiting at shelters to be united with relatives or sponsors. The event is organized by LUPE, the grassroots nonprofit started by activists Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta in 1989. Campos and her daughters are LUPE members. They and the participants at the park are continuing the work of serving humanity.

"This is the closest that many community members will get to what's happening at the border," says John-Michael Torres, LUPE's communications coordinator, as the music continues in the background. "We want to lift up treating people the way we want to be treated."

Campos, who lives in a colonia near Edinburg, has visited shelters with other LUPE members — some of whom have read books to migrant children there — to offer support to asylum seekers released from U.S. detention facilities.

"I put my hand on their shoulder," she says in Spanish. "I tell them, 'You are not alone.'"

Families Lend a Hand to Asylum Seekers

Mother's Day, and the air is still thick and humid in Brownsville, which sits about sixty miles southeast of Edinburg. At the city's bus station — minutes from a U.S. Mexico-border crossing — Sergio Cordova has arrived with food and supplies for immigrants and asylum seekers following their release from U.S. detention.

He is a volunteer with Team Brownsville, a humanitarian organization that provides food and emergency supplies to asylum seekers and migrants on both sides of the border. The network supports Team Brownsville by amplifying its needs and supporting its communication efforts.

As asylum seekers have arrived at the border in recent months, nonprofit organizations, including the ACLU of Texas, have dispatched staff members to talk with them about the conditions there and their treatment by U.S. authorities. U.S. border guards are stationed at the midpoint of the bridge that crosses the river to Brownsville, and these days they turn away asylum seekers looking to be processed at the border and instruct them to wait in Mexico. Advocates say the old protocol of allowing asylum seekers to start the process after they had crossed onto U.S. soil was safer and more compassionate for families fleeing strife, turmoil, and violence.

Inside the Brownsville bus station, passengers are waiting to board buses to distant points. At first, it's hard to determine who might have been released from federal immigration detention or how long a person or family might have been at the bus station. Some newly-released migrants spend days there, patiently waiting to be reunited with relatives or sponsors in the U.S.

Cordova, a local school district employee who grew up in an immigrant family, scans the room looking for people without shoelaces and belts. Immigrants and asylum seekers who were just released from federal detention aren't likely to have either, as U.S. authorities, citing safety reasons, require that they be turned over.

Cordova gives food to an immigrant family who hasn't eaten in days, and then an older woman approaches, saying in Spanish that people nearby need help. A younger woman quickly follows, keeping an eye on Cordova.

The younger woman, who appears to be in her twenties, looks distraught. Her brown hair is frazzled, and a small towel is draped over her shoulder. When she moves again, it's clear she's not alone. An infant, a girl, is sleeping on a metal bench in the waiting area. Cordova rips open a pack of diapers and hands the mother a stack along with a toothbrush. Soon, a bowl of cereal is placed next to the girl, who is covered by a blanket.

The mother pauses and smiles slightly. She tells Cordova she is from Honduras and that it's taken a month for her and her daughter to make their way to the border. Asylum seekers often make the journey by walking. It is Mother's Day.

"Any baby who comes through, we make sure they have formula," Cordova says. "All we give them is all that they'll have."

The stories that Team Brownsville volunteers and city staff hear at the bus station are harrowing and almost always involve tales of the instability, turmoil, and violence that people are fleeing, especially if they are from a Central American country. But people arrive from other countries, too, including Sri Lanka, China, Bangladesh, Kosovo, Cameroon, and Cuba.

Later in the day, Cordova and Team Brownsville volunteers walk across the U.S.-Mexico border with food and supplies for families and individuals waiting to apply for asylum. On the Mexican side of the border, as people eat the donated food, one man talks about the persecution he faced in Cuba because he is gay. He says he is looking forward to living in the United States.

Families Meet to Boost Education

Each week, members of the Rio Grande Valley Equal Voice Network gather at a different community-based organization to chart a path to progress in other areas, including housing, jobs, and health.

The day after Mother's Day, the network's education working group is meeting at ARISE Support Center, located in a yellow two-story house in the city of Alamo. The house, which serves as the nonprofit's headquarters, is now a place for community organizing. Rooms are filled with chatter in English and Spanish.

It's fitting the meeting is at ARISE. The organization works with many nearby colonia residents, especially mothers. After getting tired of the conditions in their colonias — bumpy, potholed roads, a lack of streetlights — they became grassroots community leaders with the goal of creating positive change for their families and neighbors.

In minutes, the seats around the table in ARISE's lime green meeting room have been filled. Parents and community leaders are there to discuss ways to improve communication between families and school district officials.

School district board meetings, network members say, are held only in English — but parents in this heavily Latinx region mostly speak Spanish. Many say an English-to-Spanish translation policy at school board meetings would help support all families in their pursuit of a quality education for their children.

Also on the working group's agenda for the day: a discussion of how Mexican-American studies can be introduced into the school curriculum. Butcher paper goes up on the walls. Participants write down and discuss ideas.

"It's democracy because we are not working only for the best of one person," says Ramona Casas, a community organizer who helped start ARISE in 1987. "We're looking out for the best of community members."

A $190 Million Policy Win to Address Flooding in Colonias

Rain has just swept through the Indian Hills colonia, near the city of Mercedes, leaving the unincorporated area moist and muggy.

Near the intersection of Apache Drive and Campacuas Drive stands a sprawling tree. When neighborhood families need to discuss community issues and concerns — say, better roads or water drainage or their kids' safety — this is where they gather.

Lourdes Salinas, a community organizer with Proyecto Azteca, which works on affordable housing in the region's colonias, is standing under the tree with a few mothers. She lives in this colonia.

The women are talking about a major victory scored by the Rio Grande Valley Equal Voice Network in November 2018: a $190 million bond measure to fund nearly forty drainage projects in Hidalgo County colonias.

The county has hundreds of colonias — some community leaders put the number at between eight hundred and a thousand. Tens of thousands of families live in those colonias because they're affordable. But colonias are located on former agricultural land that was developed with an eye to retaining water for crops, says Ann Williams Cass, executive director of Proyecto Azteca.

When it rains here, homes and streets flood. Families talk of water rising as high as their waists. The water not only damages houses, including bedrooms and appliances such as washing machines, but can block streets leading into and out of colonias. Families are unable to leave their homes to buy groceries. Mothers talk of holding young children in their arms to keep them out of the water. Sometimes they slip and fall. Kids tell their parents that even the sound of rain frightens them. Sanitation systems fail during the flooding, contaminating neighborhoods.

In June 2018, the flooding reached worse-than-normal levels. Some have dubbed the event the "Great June Flood."

After that, families affiliated with the Rio Grande Valley Equal Voice Network pressed their calls for better drainage. They went door-to-door and talked with neighbors, documented cases of flooding, attended government meetings, and studied flood maps and data. They then succeeded in putting a November 2018 bond measure on the ballot and spoke with Rio Grande Valley residents, explaining that the slightly higher taxes would benefit everyone.

Responsibility for the bond measure passing is shared by many families and community organizations, including ARISE, LUPE, and Proyecto Azteca, which all work in various colonias — places where their own families members live.

Sarai Montelongo, a mother in the Indian Hills colonia who started an influential Facebook page, used her platform to call attention to bumpy roads and the safety of neighborhood children and raise awareness about the drainage bond.

"We used to be a colonia that people forgot," she says in Spanish, standing under the large sprawling tree and near streets that have been the site of community meetings with elected officials.

While $190 million will not solve all the drainage issues in Hidalgo County, community leaders say it is a policy step in the right direction and that they will continue to work for more improvements.

"It will be a big change," says Salinas.

Rio Grande Valley, USA

Motorists looking to head north from the Rio Grande Valley to San Antonio take State Route 281. The drive takes about four hours and can be monotonous, save for the scrubby flatland greenery and what looks like a large gas station in the middle of the highway.

It's actually a U.S. Border Patrol checkpoint. Many people have questioned the need for these checkpoints so far from the border. According to the ACLU, however, the federal government can operate the checkpoints if they're within a hundred miles of the United States' "external boundary."

The ACLU also notes that U.S. border authorities are only permitted "a brief and limited inquiry into [the] residency status" of people who travel through the checkpoints. Cass of Proyecto Azteca says the federal checkpoints exist in every direction heading out of the Rio Grande Valley and are also found at airports.

A few days after Mother's Day, two U.S. Border Patrol agents dressed in olive green uniforms stand at a checkpoint lane and wait for motorists. One holds the leash of a K-9 dog.

As two visitors — a white American male and an Asian American male — pull up in an automobile, an agent wearing reflective sunglasses waves the vehicle through. No need to stop and answer a few questions; no need to show identification.

Beyond the checkpoint, however, a man with dark hair is standing in the grass just off the highway. In a matter of minutes, a U.S. Border Patrol van with flashing emergency lights arrives. Soon, two more government vans show up.

Weeks later, news breaks of crowded, unsanitary conditions at federal detention facilities along the U.S.-Mexico border, of asylum seekers and migrants confined behind chain-link fencing, of migrant children remaining separated from their parents.

Sanchez, the LUPE organizing coordinator, says these types of stories and experiences underscore how important it is for communities to work together for human rights, equity, justice, and the alleviation of poverty.

"All of this reminds us of our humanity," she says. "We bring things in our heart to keep us human. For people here, it's not an option to give up."

Brad Wong is communications manager for the Marguerite Casey Foundation. This post was originally published on the Casey Foundation website.

Which Messages Will Get Out the Vote — A Generational Perspective

October 08, 2019

Vote_counts_830_0In a little over a year, America could see the unthinkable: the highest level of voter participation in living memory. And based on insights gleaned from recent research, voter messaging focused on issues and empowerment is likely to be key to the turnout.

Two factors are driving what could be a record turnout in 2020. First, while only about half of the U.S. voting-age population cast a ballot in the 2016 presidential election, turnout in 2018 was the highest for a midterm election in nearly a century. Second, as the 2020 election cycle draws closer, we're seeing a continuing generational shift in the electorate. As noted by the Pew Research Center earlier this year, boomers and older cohorts accounted for 7 in 10 eligible voters in 2000, but in 2020 will account for fewer than 3 in 10.

For the many groups trying to get out the vote as a way to create change in society, the type of messaging they use in their campaigns can make a critical difference in who wins and who loses at the ballot box.

As most of you know, however, messaging is more art than science.

For example, which of these approaches is likely to prove most effective in getting people off their couches and into the voting booth in 2020?

"We want change!" (March For Our Lives/)

"You must speak to be heard." (HeadCount)

"We Make Change Happen" (Hip Hop Caucus)

"Skip the lines. Vote early!" (various)

It's hard to say, because the variables that figure into any person's decision to vote are so numerous and fluid. Some people are motivated by a particular issue or issues, others by a passion (or dislike) for a particular candidate. People's changing circumstances — marriage, divorce, having children, losing a job, relocating for a job, etc. — also play a role.

To learn more about what drives people to vote, I led a new research study with the Ad Council, in partnership with Democracy Works, designed to:

  • uncover Americans' attitudes toward and perceptions of voting;
  • explore messages and narratives that have influenced those perceptions and attitudes in the past;
  • understand reactions to specific message frames among boomers, Gen Xers, millennials, and members of Gen Z;
  • determine which message frames, for each generational cohort, are likely to be most effective in driving voter participation; and
  • identify the most compelling messages.

We recently published our findings in a report, Driving Voter Turnout in 2020: Research on Effective Messaging Strategies for Each Generation. And while our research was limited to the five frames within which most current messaging around voting falls — issue, empowerment, identity, companionship, and ease — we consistently found empowerment to be a critical driver of voting across all generations.

People who feel they have the power, the right, and/or the authority to do something are exponentially more likely to exercise that power/right/authority than people who do not feel empowered. (Note: this is just as true for giving and volunteering as it is for voting.)

Below is a brief summary of our findings, as well as some recommendations for empowering your supporters via your messaging.

Voting is valued. Members of all generational cohorts generally are excited to vote and view it as a civic duty. To reinforce this belief and attitude, consider a messaging campaign that encourages people to feel good about voting and reminds them that their vote gives them the power to affect issues they care about.

Generational differences come into play with second-tier messaging. Regardless of generation, the majority of respondents were most inspired by issue-focused messaging and found it to be the most appealing, believable, relevant, and inspiring frame. However, generations differ in their responses to second-tier messaging (i.e., messaging that reinforces the big campaign slogan/call to action). Which means you need to think about how to craft your communications based on the preferences of the generation that is being targeted.

Messages of empowerment and identity are the most effective (after issue). Our surveys showed that once you've hooked your audience with issue-related messaging, all generations respond best to messages of empowerment and identity (though Gen Z responded less favorably to identity-related messaging than other cohorts). For example, targeting members of younger cohorts with positive, inspirational messages (and images) helps them think about the bigger picture — and reminds them that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. On the other hand, older generations are more likely to respond to straightforward messaging and acknowledgements of their already established identities as members of the voting public.

Although the majority of Gen Zers have not yet voted, they are just as excited about and engaged in voting activities as older generations — if not more so. Members of Gen Z view messages that speak to issues and empowerment as appealing, relevant, shareable, believable, and inspirational. (Think about campaigns such as March For Our Lives, which highlights the power of the individual.) Gen Z cares deeply, passionately, and openly about issues. Its members take their role in our democratic society seriously and believe that every person and vote counts. To inspire them, craft messages based on issue and empowerment frames.

Voting is essential to a well-functioning democracy. Today, with the political divide in the country as wide as it has been in half a century and the 2020 election looming, communicators have the power — and responsibility — to use all the tools at their disposal to influence voters, of all ages, to exercise their constitutionally-guaranteed right and make their voices heard at the polls.

We know that in order to influence how anyone views your issue, you first must influence how he or she views it in relation to themselves. The good news? You're starting with a significant advantage: today's younger generations already believe they can create change, whether or not institutions formally offer them the chance to do so.

Regardless of whether you're a marketer/communicator for a brand, a cause, or a candidate, your first and most important task is to empower your constituents to believe in that brand/cause/candidate. Help them feel like they're an important part of the social-change solution. And while you're at it, empower younger Americans to believe they hold the future in their hands.

Headshot_derrick_feldmann_2015Derrick Feldmann (@derrickfeldmann) is the author of Social Movements for Good: How Companies and Causes Create Viral Change, the founder of the Millennial Impact Project, and lead researcher at Cause and Social Influence.

After the Hire, Then What?

October 04, 2019

Welcome-600x450You've gone through the time-consuming process of hiring a new employee, and you've hired the best candidate out there. Now you can relax, right? Not so fast. The work of onboarding has just begun.

Your new hire may have all the qualities and qualifications needed to make her a star in your organization, but the road to success isn't always that smooth. In fact, the line between fantastic and fiasco can be a thin one, and a lot of it comes down to how you handle the onboarding process.

Skeptical? Consider that more than half of all U.S. employees leave their job in the first year, citing internal factors like lack of training or mentoring as their reason for bailing. Contrast that with the 69 percent of employees who say they are likely to stay with a company for at least three years if they've had a great onboarding experience.

So what does "a great onboarding experience" look like? To help you train and retain new hires, here's our quick-start guide to best practices for onboarding.

1. Understand that onboarding isn't an event, it's a process. Some organizations mistakenly think that onboarding is an event that happens on a new employee's first day. Newsflash: a meet-and-greet over muffins in the conference room and pointing out where the restroom is constitutes only a small part of the onboarding process, which should actually start the day you make an employee an offer and continue for the next 365 days. PRO-TIP: Have a pre-set agenda for check-ins with any new employee at 30, 60, 90 and 120 days. Use that time to make sure the employee is settling in without problem or incident, understands his or her role and responsibilities, and knows where to go to give feedback or have an important conversation related to his or her work situation. Don't have an onboarding checklist? Download one here.

2. Include the whole team. We've all been there before: you come in to work one day, and there's a stranger in the breakroom. Is it a repairman there to finally fix the copy machine? Is it your co-worker’s ex-boyfriend come to win her back? Later, you discover the "stranger" is actually a new employee no one bothered to tell you about, leaving you feeling left out of the loop (and him or her feeling unwelcome). How to avoid such sitiuations? Be sure to send an email to your staff before any new employee's start day letting them know about the new hire and a little bit about who she is and what she'll be doing. Next, arrange a coffee break (don’t forget the muffins) at which your new hire can be informally welcomed to the organization and introduced to everyone on the team. PRO-TIP: While the whole team should play some part in the onboarding process, you should definitely consider assigning one person (a “buddy”) from HR or the new hire's team to help train her and make themselves available for questions.

3. Make a big deal of the new hire. That whole "coffee and muffins in the conference room thing" is a great way to introduce your new hire to her new colleagues and the culture of your organization, but it's just the start of the welcoming process. An employee’s happiness, productivity, and commitment to the organization over the longer term are all linked. Translation? It's time for a little red-carpet treatment. Start by making sure your new hire's workstation is clean (i.e., no traces of her predecessor) and set up with everything she'll need (computer, email, phone and passwords). PRO-TIP: Spread the news! Go the extra mile and (if the position is at a sufficiently high level) issue a press release and/or social media updates letting people outside the organization know how excited you are about your new hire.

4. Encourage new hires to ask questions. New employees tend to have a LOT of questions. Where are the office supplies kept? How do I make the copy machine stop copying double-sided? If the yogurt in the fridge doesn't have a name on it, can anyone have it? Does Hal realize that a mustache is not a good look for him? (Just kidding, Hal.) But many new employees don't want to come off as clueless or bother busy colleagues with what may seem like silly questions and will struggle to figure things out on their own. While every boss appreciates an employee who shows initiative, new hires often waste a lot of time trying to figure things out or doing them incorrectly (and then having to re-do them) — time they could have saved (and put to more productive use) if they had simply asked for help or instruction in the first place. Make sure your employees know that you not only tolerate and expect questions, you welcome them. PRO-TIP: Don't think that by simply saying, "If you have any questions, don't hesitate to ask," people will take you at your word. Instead, check-in with your new hires frequently, especially over the first few weeks of their employment, and encourage their questions as part of the on-the-job learning experience.

5. Lay a foundation for closer team integration. At Envision, we have a mantra: "Everything we do is connected." Our work in the areas of search, strategy, and leadership are all part of a bigger picture. (It's also why we feature gears — cogs meshing together to keep the machine running smoothly — in our logo and marketing materials. Like us, your organization is comprised of individuals who are engaged in collective work toward a common goal. But often people are confused about (or may not even know) what other people are doing to achieve that goal, making teamwork and integration a challenge. As you take on new, and possibly more staff members, you may need to hold more team meetings, at least for a while. People often gripe about meetings, but they are an invaluable way to get everyone on the same page, help them understand what everyone else on the team or in the organization is doing, and show them how the office is run as a whole. PRO-TIP: To ensure that your meetings are an efficient use of everyone's time (and eliminate some of the aforementioned gripes), be sure to map out your objectives for the meeting beforehand. What is it you hope to accomplish? What do you want and need to know from various team members? Is the information to be shared relevant to everyone who will be in the meeting?

6. Guess what? Your board needs onboarding, too. It may surprise you to know that new staff members aren't the only ones who need onboarding. To be effective, board members need proper onboarding, as well. Every organization strives to assemble the best board of directors possible, but once those members have been elected, getting the most out them is an aspiration, not a given, and almost always involves a carefully thought-out process. Applying some of the above tips can also be helpful for onboarding new board members (e.g., asking a veteran board member to be "buddy"/mentor the newest addition to the board). A general board member orientation session is another great way to onboard new directors and and, at the same time, invigorate the entire board. PRO-TIP: Want more information? Check out this great advice from the National Council of Nonprofits.

Some of the above tips may seem to involve a lot of unnecessary work, but when you consider the cost, in time and money, of replacing a valued employee with a new employee, it's really not that much and will feel like a bargain once that new employee has settled in and is contributing as a full-fledged member of the team.

Headshot_ashley_watersonAshley Waterson, a creative messaging guru at Envision Consulting, has more than ten years' experience crafting content for various platforms, including comedy sketches, NPR features, and websites.

Memo to Foundation CEOs: Get a Youth Council

September 30, 2019

Calendow_presidents_youth_councilSeven years ago, we launched a President's Youth Council (PYC) at the California Endowment, and it seems like a good time to tell you that the young people who've served on the council over those seven years have significantly influenced our programming as a private foundation, been a source of reality-checking and ground-truthing on how our work "shows up" at the community level, and have substantially increased my own "woke-ness" as a foundation executive.

Before I get into the details, I'd like to briefly share why we decided we needed a President's Youth Council and how it works: In 2011, our foundation embarked on a ten-year, statewide Building Healthy Communities campaign that was designed to work in partnership with community leaders and advocates to improve wellness and health equity for young people in California. We had already been using a variation of a place-based approach in our work, and so we selected fourteen economically distressed communities to participate in the campaign — some urban, some rural, and all, taken together, representing the complex diversity of the state.

At the time, I was aware not only of the privileged position I occupied outside my organization, but also of how sheltered I was as a chief executive within my organization. More often than not, I received information about the effectiveness and impact of our work in the form of thoughtfully crafted memos from staff, PowerPoint presentations, and glossy evaluation reports filled with professionally designed charts and graphics. Even when feedback in the form of recommendations from consultants or comments from the community came my way, it was all carefully curated and edited. As I had learned — and this is especially true at large foundations — when members of the community get "face time" with the CEO, it is a carefully managed and considered process.

Being at least vaguely conscious of these issues early on in our Building Healthy Communities work, I wanted to ensure I would have some regularly calendared opportunities to meet face-to-face with young leaders from the communities we were serving. So, we solicited nominations from grantee-leaders in each of the fourteen program sites, and a President's Youth Council, featuring mostly young people of color between the ages of 17 and 21 and of varying sexual/gender orientations, was born.

Seven years later, here's what it looks like.

We meet three or four times a year (just like our board of directors), beginning with an informal dinner on Friday evening and continuing with breakfast and lunch conversations on Saturday. Then I excuse myself so that members of the council can have their own "executive session" and social time in the afternoon. They then de-brief each other over breakfast on Sunday before making their way home. The foundation pays their expenses and also provides them with a modest stipend — a welcome bonus, as many of these young people come from economically struggling families and communities. Between year three and six of their tenure, members rotate off and new young leaders are recruited to replace them. Two foundation staff members provide support with PYC meeting logistics and structure.

It's been a richly rewarding experience for me, and both I, as a foundation president and CEO, and the foundation — have learned a lot:

  • PYC members have pushed me and the foundation out of our strategic comfort zones. With respect to social justice, social media, youth-led and -shaped narrative change, youth empowerment, and governance, we are in many ways a different foundation than we were a decade ago. My young colleagues also have pushed me to be more courageous about using our foundation's brand and voice in the advocacy arena and to speak out more boldly.
  • Council members — and hundreds of their activist colleagues around the state — have helped us see how connecting young leaders across geographies can lead to policy change at the state and national level. Especially in the area of school discipline reform, the voices of young people engaged in "schools not prisons" and "health for all" campaigns have translated into meaningful impact.
  • I have learned a great deal about the intersection of childhood trauma and adversity in the battle for social and health justice. Our PYC leaders are exceptional — but they also carry an enormous burden of trauma and anxiety as a result of family and community stressors, economic distress, stigmatization in school settings, and adverse experiences with law enforcement and the criminal justice system. One of our PYC leaders was murdered two years ago, others have been subjected to police violence, still others have had family members deported or have been kicked out of their homes because of their sexual orientation. The trauma they experience is quite real, and over time we have learned to embrace the use of healing and spiritual supports when these young leaders gather and have built in "how are you doing" sessions on Saturday mornings.
  • We have learned — and are still learning — how to leverage PYC members specifically, and young people more generally, as thought leaders. At the moment, for example, I am asking them to give me their best thinking as we consider investments in grassroots leadership development in the years ahead.

We continue to think about how we engage with young people as authentic — and not "tokenized" — thought partners. For example, our board of directors has considered inviting a young leader or youth representative to sit on the board — although care must be taken when considering what it might be like for a young person (or two) to share his or her thoughts about complicated issues with fourteen or fifteen civic leaders in their forties, fifties, and sixties. We haven't ruled it out and will consider the possibility more thoroughly with members of the PYC in the year ahead.

We've also commissioned an evaluation of our PYC experiment by Professor Veronica Terriquez of the University of California, Santa Cruz. Based on a survey, a focus group, and interviews with PYC members and PYC coordinators and foundation staff, the evaluation found that nearly four in five PYC members "strongly agree" (while the rest "agree") that they had further developed their leadership skills as a result of their involvement in the council. They also cited as a plus the various opportunities they have received, including participation in a support network, professional development and skills coaching, and an investment in healing and self-care.

So let me leave you with this: investing in activist, community-engaged young people has a triple-bottom-line impact: it generates positive benefits in terms of a young person's well-being; it generates positive benefits for his or her neighborhood; and it can result in positive policy and systems changes with respect to social justice and health equity.

Maybe it's time to start thinking about creating your own President's Youth Council.

Robert_K_Ross_2019_for_PhilanTopicRobert K. Ross, MD, is president and CEO of the California Endowment.

Overcoming the Risk of a Rural Census Undercount

September 18, 2019

062319NorwoodColo_008The 2020 Census is the single most important event for rural America in recent history. Its impact will be felt for decades to come. And while most of the focus of the public discussion around the census has been on the prospective citizenship question (rightfully so), there also are fundamental changes in census methodology hidden in the weeds of the process that have the potential to diminish federal and state investment in rural America by hundreds of billions of dollars.

Below we address some key engagement factors: community trust and online versus in-person census data collection, and examples of private foundations working on a complete count.

Hundreds of billions of dollars reflect the enormous importance of the census for apportionment of everything from congressional seats, to U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) allocations, to Medicaid and SNAP (food stamp) payments.

As an example, just six modestly sized federal programs under HUD and USDA that currently represent $25 billion in federal investment might change dramatically based on 2020 Census counts. A rural undercount will also reduce funding for foster care, Title 1 grants, and free or reduced lunches for high-poverty schools, Head Start programs, energy assistance for low-income households, and much more.

There are roughly sixty million Americans living in rural regions of the country, and it is not a homogenous group: the total includes thirteen million people of color, two million immigrants, and three million members of the LGBTQ community. The majority of the country's tribal members live in rural regions. And while many urban-centric thinkers and policies tend to overlook rural places, the vast majority of our nation's food, water, and energy is produced there. The investments we make in rural people and places are investments in equity, diversity, and economic stability for the entire nation.

Rural advocates and rural policy watchers are deeply concerned about two important dimensions of rural life that are currently being overlooked by census planners and may therefore negatively affect an accurate rural census count.

First, a new emphasis on online census completion ignores the fact that rural America suffers from significant broadband deficits. One-quarter (25 percent) of rural Americans have no access to broadband services whatsoever. Many others have access but can't afford the hookup. And one-third of tribal members have no access to broadband (per the recent annual Federal Communications Report on broadband penetration). These rural deficits are particularly profound in the South and West, where significant numbers of rural people of color reside. Without online access, many rural residents simply will not be able to complete the census.

Second, funding for door-to-door census workers — often people who working in their local communities and calling on their neighbors — has been cut dramatically. This surfaces a deep-running absence of trust between rural places and the federal government.

Whereas rural residents may be willing to share their personal information with a trusted community member in a face-to-face conversation, these same residents may be reluctant to provide personal information to the federal government through an impersonal online or paper form. If a process doesn't feel trustworthy, what reasonable person would participate? As a result, that absence of trust may very well translate into an undercount and associated reductions in future funding and representation.

How Can We Combat a Rural Census Undercount?

Efforts are under way in some states like Alaska, Georgia, Michigan, Minnesota, and New Mexico to fund an enhanced ground game to get out word about the importance of participating in the census, with a focus on rural areas. Much of this work is being funded by private foundations that recognize the inherent benefit to their own missions if federal and state funding are maximized for the rural communities they serve:

  • In New Mexico, the state most vulnerable to undercount, more than a dozen funders have joined ranks with the New Mexico Civic Engagement Table and a tribal coalition to create NM Counts! 2020, a collaborative effort to ensure that all New Mexicans — particularly those in hard-to-count communities — are included in the census count.
  • In Georgia, the Sapelo Foundation has made an accurate rural count a key priority and has partnered with other funders to spread the word and solicit the active engagement of locals. (The top photo shows a small store in rural New Mexico with a broadband-linked computer system on the rear counter.)
  • In Minnesota, the Blandin Foundation is leading the conversation and offering resources through its website, while its CEO, Kathy Annette, co-chairs the state's Complete Count Committee (the first of its kind in the nation). Another funder group under the umbrella of Funders for Civic Participation is leading the push to secure additional foundation support across the country.

Like the federal government, however, state governments and private funders can be disconnected from rural communities and fail to see how the true return on rural investment is often obscured by questions of scale, political partisanship, and  inaccurate myths about rural America.

To these funders, we'd like to point out that even a modest investment to help ensure an accurate rural census count can deliver enormous return in the form of federal dollars to address the very issues and challenges that are core to their work. The public dollars that will flow into rural communities to support food security, education, health care, and community development will enable both public and private funders to move from triage to transformation. For those who profess to focus on "upstream" causes rather than "downstream" symptoms, an investment in an accurate census count is about as "upstream" as you can get.

The question, then, is are you willing to invest the time and effort to ensure it happens?

Allen Smart (@allensmart6) is a veteran philanthropist and principal of consulting firm RuralwoRx. After being a funder for almost twenty-five years, he now focuses on writing, presenting, and provoking thinking about rural philanthropy.

Betsey Russell (@BetseyPR) is a philanthropy writer and researcher who works with foundations, philanthropic affinity groups, and philanthropy consultancies. She recently developed a series of case studies about successful rural funding approaches. This post originally appeared on the University of North Carolina School of Government blog and is republished here with the permission of the authors.

5 Questions for...Chera Reid, Director of Strategic Learning, Research and Evaluation, Kresge Foundation

September 16, 2019

As director of strategic learning, research, and evaluation for the Kresge Foundation, Chera Reid leads Kresge's efforts to use data to inform its grantmaking and social investing strategies, partner with grantees to ensure that the foundation's evaluation efforts support organizational and community needs, and shape how the foundation advances the fields in which it works. Previously an officer in Kresge's Education program, Reid has long focused professionally on issues of access and equity in institutions and systems and in her current role is leading the foundation's efforts to apply an equity lens to its evaluation activities, place-based practice, and collaborations across different fields and sectors.

After earning a bachelor's degree in English and African American Studies at the University of Virginia and a master's from the University of Michigan, Reid served in leadership positions at the New York branch of America Needs You and the Phillips Academy Andover Institute for Recruitment of Teachers while earning a PhD in higher education from New York University.

PND spoke to Reid about Kresge's transition from a foundation known primarily for making capital challenge grants to one focused on using a variety of tools to help grantees build stronger communities, the challenges of equity work, and how she stays upbeat and positive in challenging times.

Headshot_chera_reidPhilanthropy News Digest: You were named Kresge's first director of strategic learning, research, and evaluation in 2015, when Kresge was just a few years into its transition from being a foundation known primarily for making capital challenge grants to one focused on helping grantees build stronger communities. What role did the Strategic Learning Research, and Evaluation program play in that transition?

Chera Reid: When the foundation was primarily a capital challenge grantmaker, and we'd ask whether a project had been completed, a grantee would send in a photo of the completed physical structure. The other piece of it was financial. Kresge only released capital challenge grant funds when campaigns were nearing their finish line, which went a long way to ensuring the success of the grant.

The work I've been doing since I've been in my current role is about creating an intentional, learning organization. By virtue of that charge, the work I'm engaged in is about organizational culture change and about learning not just for the sake of feeling good about ourselves and to say we're doing it — it's about action and informing our decision making going forward. And accountability now is more about holding ourselves accountable to people in the communities in which we work and holding one another accountable to our mission.

What has changed at the foundation as we moved to a more strategic approach over the last decade or so is that we have expanded our view of our role. Kresge as a capital challenge grantmaker was an excellent thing. We were brilliant at doing one thing: helping to build libraries, hospitals, and educational institutions. But today we're using a more complete toolkit of philanthropic resources. And that means we are table-setting, we're bringing actors together from disparate fields, from the edges of practice and at the neighborhood level, and saying, "How about it? What do you think you can create together?"

We're also bringing different forms of capital to the table and saying, "How can we remove some of the risk associated with this work? Can we blend different forms of capital to get to the root of what people and communities are saying are their most pressing challenges? And how can we put learning, evaluation, and research to better use?" They’re all tools in our toolkit. By being intentional about using learning and evaluation to inform a more strategic approach to philanthropy, we are committing to doing all the things that philanthropy can and should be doing to drive change.

When Sebastian S. Kresge started the Kresge Foundation in 1924, his directive as to what it should do was really broad: promote human progress. Today, it is about expanding opportunity for low-income people in cities and doing it with an equity lens. And in 2024, the year of our centennial, we'll be asking ourselves, "How did we do? What can we point to that shows the distance we have traveled as an organization in expanding opportunity for low-income people in America's cities? Have we really done it with an equity lens? What is the path we want to chart institutionally as we look beyond 2024." Learning and evaluation are a really important part of that conversation, in that they help us hear the story, give us space to be more reflective, and enable us to look across different bodies of work and imagine the future we are trying to shape and contribute to.

PND: From an evaluation and learning perspective, what are the primary challenges of the foundation's equity work?

CR: Positing that we need to do that work through an equity lens has not been the issue, though that most certainly is not the case across the philanthropic sector. But for Kresge, bringing an equity lens to our practice has been a bridge. It resonates with other grantmakers and helps us come together and say, "Okay, what is it that we really need to learn?"

We try to incorporate the principles of equitable evaluation in whatever we’re working on. Evaluation in service of equity is about asking questions that get to root causes. It's about participant orientation and ownership, and also about ensuring that the work is multiculturally valid.

We do not have it all figured out. It's a challenge. As a sector, philanthropy has been able to work in ways that are not about evaluation in service of a bigger goal; we've been allowed to make evaluation about ourselves. But that is changing. And one thing adopting an equity frame means is that the many consultants we work with as evaluators have a long way to go to meet our goals and aspirations. What do I mean by that? We need more people who bring an equity lens to evaluative thinking, work, and consulting. In some ways, we've created that challenge for ourselves because in the past we did not ask for that kind of skill set. But we need more examples, and we need more of our peers to come forward and say, "This is what we’re trying to do and model." There is definitely a sense of urgency around the challenge within the foundation.

PND: How does Kresge apply an equity lens to its environmental and climate resilience work?

CR: Lois DeBacker, the managing director of our Environment program and a person who has spent much of her career working in philanthropy on climate issues, often says that the climate question is everybody's question. Not so long ago, the foundation's Environment program employed an adaptation and mitigation frame, but when the foundation rolled out its urban opportunity framework, the program had to re-situate itself within that frame. So, today, our work in this area is about resilience, although there is still space for adaptation and mitigation.

For example, in the Climate Resilience and Urban Opportunity initiative, which is about centering people in their communities, one of the cities is Miami, where some neighborhoods are affected by flooding even on sunny days when so-called king tides are an issue. We're working with Catalyst Miami, a human services organization that has seen the effects of climate change on a regular basis, to bring together people who are most affected by the problem and have them help solve it along with government and business and community-based groups. That work is also pushing us into areas like public health and to say that climate change is a legitimate public health concern.

PND: You were a program officer in the foundation's Education program and, before that, ran an education nonprofit in New York City. What changes have you seen in the education field with regard to equity over the past decade? Are we making progress, and will we be able to sustain it?

CR: For me, the question about equity and education is largely about the narrative about who education — especially higher education — is for. I refer to it as education for liberation, by which I mean the freedom to think, to imagine, to dream, to wonder, to be curious, to hear oneself in the next person. I think that's the biggest gift education can give us.

Fewer than 60 percent of Americans — and this includes folks in states that are doing pretty well — have a high-quality postsecondary degree or credential. And I think the narrative around who higher education is for and what is supposed to happen when you get to college or university has shifted. Part of that shift is thanks to philanthropy, and a big part of the credit belongs to the Obama administration, particularly Michelle Obama’s Reach Higher campaign. Today, many colleges and universities are making student success their number-one priority. So, are we making progress? Yes, definitely, but we still have a long way to go.

What keeps me up at night is the continued segmentation in higher education that we see. By that I mean we have made it okay for people in this country who do not come from wealth or affluence — first-generation Americans, members of low-income households — to attend institutions that institutions that have the least resources and are asked to do the most for their students. And their social and economic mobility later in life often looks very different than it does for students from affluent families who attend elite institutions.

PND: These are challenging times for people working to advance a progressive social or environ­mental agenda. Do you ever find yourself getting dis­couraged? And what do you tell the people, both inside the foundation and your grantees, to keep them from getting discouraged?

CR: Last year, I was able to attend a fiftieth commemoration of Martin Luther King's assassination. I was grateful and moved to be sitting outside the Lorraine Motel in Memphis and to hear from folks like the Rev. Jesse Jackson and faith leaders from different religions and faith traditions. And part of what stood out for me was how young so many of those civil rights warriors in the 1960s were at the time. As a person who comes from a faith tradition, it reminded me of why I do what I do.

I think about my grandmother, who had an eighth-grade education. She lived well into her nineties, and she used to say that the race is not won by the swiftest or the strongest but by the one who holds on.

It's discouraging to see that our urban public schools are more racially segregated today than they were in the years after Brown v. Board of Education became law. It's a reminder for me that our work is both about today and about the past. The freedom struggle we are in is much bigger than the current moment. It is a movement that has unfolded over decades and continues to unfold, and we need to do our best to contribute to it what we can. The struggle is much bigger than we are.

In my role at the foundation, I recognize the importance of cultivating a radical social imagination. We have to attend to that sense of possibility, we have to let ourselves be curious, we have to be free to dream. I think john a. powell, who leads the Haas Institute for a Fair and Inclusive Society at UC Berkeley, is brilliant at cultivating and expressing a radical social imagination. Not only in the way that he describes othering and belonging for the many of us yearning to truly see ourselves, but in the way he brings his team together with truly inspiring people every two years for the Othering and Belonging Conference. The conference is a great example, for me, of what I mean when I say, "What does radical social imagination look like? Who are the best and brightest thinkers out there who can give us an answer and show us how to dream and imagine? What are the lessons we need to learn and share with others?"

There are times when I think rage and anger are important. Sometimes we have to call upon those feelings and take that energy to the streets. Sometimes we have to pick up pen and paper and write. Other times, it's a combination. But we owe it to ourselves to breathe through the work, to integrate those lessons into our own work, and to take to heart the charge that previous generations of leaders and activists put out there for us. As Martin Luther King said, "I may not get there with you, but I want you to know that we, as a people, will get to the promised land."

— Matt Sinclair

Museums Should Lead in Socially Responsible Investing

September 11, 2019

Plant-Growing-In-Savings-CoinsMuseums and galleries all over the world have been grabbing headlines lately as a result of controversies over the source of funding from donors and trustees.

Artists and members of the public have objected to sponsorship from companies and individuals linked to the sale of opioids, tobacco, fossil fuels, private prisons, or the manufacture of tear gas. But the outcry overlooks a bigger opportunity for endowed cultural institutions to signal their values: how they invest.

The financial investments of four museums that have been criticized — the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Modern Art, the Solomon R Guggenheim Museum, and the Whitney Museum of American Art — total more than $6 billion. Turning down a few million dollars in individual donations because of where the money comes from might feel good. But it ignores how these institutions invest the billions of dollars they already control.

Cultural institutions generally invest in public equities. It is reasonable to assume at least a portion of their public equity allocation is in an index fund, such as the S&P 500, which includes the very same types of companies — tobacco, weapons manufacturing, and fossil fuels — that are objected to in connection with controversial donors.

Yet there are hundreds of alternative vehicles that could allow for values-driven investing — including index funds such as the MSCI KLD 400 Social index and the S&P 500 ESG index. These exclude companies that produce negative social and environmental impacts. Then there are exchange-traded funds aligned with issues of race and social justice, gender equity, alternative energy production, and the UN sustainable development goals. In fact, in the U.S., $12 trillion is currently invested for positive environmental and social impact through funds such as these — one-quarter of all assets under management. So why aren't cultural institutions investing in these opportunities?

Mention the topic of socially responsible investing and people often ask whether investors sacrifice financial returns when they introduce factors such as environmental stewardship and good governance into investment decision making. The answer is no.

In fact there is a growing body of evidence demonstrating that socially responsible investments outperform conventional ones. Wealth advisers such as Perella Weinberg and impact investors as diverse as the state of North Carolina and the Russell Family Foundation are sharing their evidence and portfolio experience to prove it.

Cultural institutions should be at the forefront of socially responsible investing, and this is where their boards can help. So far, it is small arts organizations that are leading the way. Over the past few months, Building for the Arts and Creative Capital each invested in the NYC Inclusive Creative Economy Fund, the first impact investment vehicle targeting low-income communities. And in June, the Souls Grown Deep Foundation committed its entire $1 million endowment to an impact investment strategy focused on promoting racial and social justice and economic opportunity in the arts.

These three organizations see their investment portfolios as another tool to advance their mission. Larger operations such as the Ford Foundation, the Heron Foundation, and the Rockefeller Brothers Fund have also demonstrated how to align the endowment of a nonprofit institution with its values.

Science and natural history museums including the Field Museum and the American Museum of Natural History have divested from fossil fuels in alignment with their stance on climate change. The time has come for our largest cultural institutions to demonstrate similar leadership.

Let's bring the best of Wall Street and Museum Mile together.

Headshot_laura_callananLaura Callanan is founding partner of Upstart Co-Lab and former senior deputy chair of the National Endowment for the Arts. Maxwell Anderson also contributed to this article, which originally appeared in the Financial Times and is republished here with permission.

ADA and Web Accessibility Guidelines for Nonprofit Websites in 2019

September 10, 2019

Ninth_circuit_court

Signed into law in 1990, the American Disabilities Act (ADA) prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities and is aimed at making all public spaces inclusive and accessible to everyone. The ADA Amendments Act of 2008 later clarified the "definition of 'disability' to ensure that [it] would be broadly construed and applied without extensive analysis."

Let's take a look at how the ADA has affected websites in recent years, as well as what compliance entails for nonprofit organizations.

Until recently, organizations with websites were encouraged to comply with established Web accessibility standards, although compliance is not mandatory. The details of compliance were a hot topic of discussion as recently as June 5, 2018, within the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), a private organization that recently released updated guidelines for its Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI).

The primary goal of WAI is to make the Internet a place where anyone can get involved "regardless of cognitive, neurological, visual, speech, physical, or auditory disabilities they may be burdened with." The guidelines developed by the initiative — with the help of disability organizations, government resources, and research labs — are known as the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), the latest version of which is WCAG 2.1.

A Top-Down View of What WCAG Compliance Entails

Adoption of WCAG includes providing text options for non-text content, clear titles for Web pages, "disability-considerate colors," and straightforward site structure so that people with focus-related disorders can navigate the site. It's worth noting that many websites were already compliant with the guidelines.

WCAG 2.0 outlined three additional levels of compliance. From low to high: Level A, Level AA, and Level AAA. Compliance at the lower levels is independent of compliance at the highest level, and WCAG does not recommend making AAA compliance a general policy requirement — for the simple reason that not all content can be modified to satisfy the criteria.

WCAG 2.1 builds on WCAG 2.0 guidelines and includes seventeen new criteria related to:

  • technological advances in mobile devices
  • visual disabilities such as color blindness and low vision
  • learning and cognitive disabilities such as Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) or age-related cognitive decline

WCAG 2.1 added five new success criteria to Level A, seven to Level AA, and another five to Level AAA. It's recommended that WCAG 2.0-compliant sites review WCAG 2.1 and make adjustments where possible to ensure that the site remains compliant with the latest guidelines. Though some of these new criteria require fairly serious programming knowledge, others involve simple formatting changes that can be performed with basic text editing tools.

An example of a text-related addition to Level AA is Success Criterion 1.4.12. Intended to ensure that readers "can override author specified text spacing to improve their reading experience without any loss of content or functionality," the criterion details the minimum amount of available adjustments for line height (line spacing), spacing after paragraphs, letter spacing (tracking), and word spacing. An example of non-compliance with the spec would be if a portion of text were to get cut off or become no longer visible when the page was enlarged.

As of July 24, 2018, the Department of Justice (DOJ) had not yet adopted WCAG 2.0 as the standard for the private sector, despite numerous private and governmental plaintiffs urging the government to make Level AA WCAG 2.0 compliance the standard for website accessibility.

ADA and the Ninth Circuit: The Most Recent Case With Big Implications

Since the inception of the ADA, numerous claims of inaccessibility have been brought before the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. Although many of the rulings against websites and the companies that operate them eventually are overturned, the process is time-consuming and costly, both financially and in terms of public sentiment.

It's been especially tricky since DOJ — after nearly eight years of review — decided to withdraw its proposed ADA rulemaking, leaving all ADA-related decisions up to the discretion of Ninth Circuit courts. The department's reasoning was based on the general sentiment that waiting for a DOJ ruling would cause plaintiffs "undue delay" and that "courts are perfectly capable of interpreting the meaning [of] 'equal' and 'effective.'"

Indeed, the Ninth Circuit court decision in Robels v. Domino’s Pizza was a boon for ADA website accessibility suits. After a California district court initially dismissed the case, stating that company websites cannot be deemed to have violated the ADA before the DOJ provides specific guidelines, the case was taken up by the Ninth Circuit for the previously stated reasons regarding "undue delay."

While the Ninth Circuit didn't rule that failure to comply with WCAG necessarily violates the ADA, its ruling did state that "the district court can order compliance with WCAG 2.0 as an equitable remedy, if after discovery, the website and app fail to satisfy the ADA." The Ninth Circuit does hold that covered sites be granted "maximum flexibility" in terms of meeting the requirements. Practically speaking, this means that any ADA-covered website could be ordered to become WCAG-compliant.

How Does This Affect Nonprofits?

Because courts cannot agree on whether a public accommodation refers only to a physical location, cases like Robels v. Domino's Pizza could mean increased risk for nonprofit websites. In fact, some courts deem websites to be public accommodations, even if they are not associated with an actual physical location. Until DOJ provides detailed guidelines, it seems these matters will be left entirely to the discretion of Ninth Circuit courts.

Although it's not technically required that nonprofits fully conform to WCAG guidelines to receive a Level AAA rating, investment in achieving Level AA compliance has considerable potential for saving organizations time and legal fees. This is especially true while we continue to wait on DOJ to specify legal requirements for ADA-covered organizations, companies, and websites. For the typical nonprofit, reaching the broadest possible audience is key to advancing its mission and goals. And the best way to do that is to ensure that anyone and everyone is able to actively engage with your content online.

Headshort_eric_van_buskirk_philantopicEric Van Buskirk is the publisher of Dopa, a W3C accessible website focused on mental health and psychological disorders. An expert on Internet search engines, he also oversaw some of the largest big-data studies on how Google ranks webpages.

Most Popular PhilanTopic Posts (August 2019)

September 06, 2019

Labor Day has come and gone, the days are getting shorter, and you're probably feeling the urge for goin'. Before you do, check out some of the posts that were popular with our readers in August. Enjoy!

Interested in contributing to PND or PhilanTopic? We'd love to hear from you. Drop us a note at Mitch.Nauufts@Candid.org.

Charitable Gift or Bribe? Lori Loughlin's Legal Case Rests on Dubious Claim

September 04, 2019

USC_gateLast week, Lori Loughlin, the actress, and her husband, the designer Mossimo Giannulli, may have provided a glimpse of their defense strategy when they appear in court in October in connection with payments they made, say prosecutors, to help their daughters gain entrance to the University of Southern California. Their likely argument: the money wasn't a bribe; it was an act of altruism.

Loughlin's case is part of a larger — and by now, infamous — scandal involving thirty-four parents who were charged last March with paying money to a third party to "facilitate" their kids' admission to elite universities. Fifteen of those parents have pleaded guilty to fraud. One of them, actress Felicity Huffman, has pleaded guilty to paying $15,000 to have her daughter's SAT exam score artificially inflated and is scheduled to be sentenced on September 13. Unlike Huffman, Loughlin and Giannulli, who parted with $500,000, are planning to fight it out in court.

Loughlin's attorney, William Trach of Latham & Watkins, contends the money the government calls a bribe was really a charitable donation. "Checks were made out to USC Athletics and to a fund at USC," he says. "Those checks were cashed by USC." Trach’s logic, apparently: the money was sent to a tax-exempt charitable organization, and the organization put the money into its bank account; therefore, it was a charitable contribution. (Yes, the University of Southern California, with its $5.5 billion endowment, is a tax-exempt charitable organization.)

Money also traveled through another charity, Key Worldwide Foundation (KWF), which was established by William "Rick" Singer, the man behind the admissions scheme. Singer has pleaded guilty to racketeering charges and is now cooperating with prosecutors. We will likely hear more about KWF during the trial, but one question the prosecution should ask is how much Loughlin and her husband donated to entities not caught up in the scandal. Since their lawyer contends that their donations — that's plural — were in support of opportunities for underprivileged students, it might be helpful to know if the couple supported other, similar causes. In fact, it would provide context for their claim of generosity to know how charitable in general the couple has been over the years.

Clearly, a pure heart isn't the only thing driving many charitable contributions. Buildings and programs, for example, are often named for donors, a public recognition of their generosity. And there's no problem with that — not from the perspective of the IRS or the public. But where do we draw the line between a public accolade and a more tangible quid pro quo — a favor or advantage granted or expected in return for something. If the defense goes down the road of altruism, it will have to explain both the timing of the payment — at this point it's difficult to call it a gift — and the quo relative to the quid.

And what of Key Worldwide Foundation? Its mission statement is almost laughable in the context of the scandal: its website says the organization "endeavors to provide education that would normally be unattainable to underprivileged students, not only attainable but realistic. With programs that are designed to assist young people in everyday situations, and educational situations, we hope to open new avenues of educational access to students that would normally have no access to these programs." One might wonder how wealthy celebrities come to see their children as underprivileged. If Laughlin and Giannulli's response is that payments to KWF were meant to help others, that would mean it was mere coincidence that their daughters were accepted to USC. (And bear in mind they were accepted as recruits to one of the top Division 1 women's crew teams in the United States — even though they had no rowing experience.)

Then there's this: in addition to the colleges and universities involved in the scandal, the recipients listed on KWF's 2015 and 2016 IRS information returns include a nonprofit called Friends of Cambodia (FoC). On those forms, KWF claimed it donated $19,200 in 2015 and $18,550 in 2016 to FoC. But NBC’s Bay Area affiliate KNTV spoke to Elia and Halimah Van Tuyl, the couple who founded FoC, who told the station they were "stunned" to learn their organization is listed on KWF's tax returns; the VanTuyls further claimed they had never heard of KWF or received any money from it. "There's no record of any of these donations," Halimah Van Tuyl said. "I would have noticed — we're not that big," added Elia Van Tuyl.

At this moment, it appears that in the gift vs. bribe argument, the evidence in support of the latter is stronger. And for reasons beyond bringing a group of parents trying to game the system to justice, it's important to know the difference. Philanthropy has entered an era of unprecedented scrutiny at the same time that nonprofits increasingly are being asked to demonstrate their impact. Our sector must be vigilant; we cannot afford to let charlatans, without charitable motive, falsely define the narrative of what doing good really means.  

Doug-White-headshot_optDoug White is an advisor to nonprofit organizations and philanthropists and an author and a teacher. His most recent book, to be published in October, is Wounded Charity: Lessons Learned from the Wounded Warrior Project Crisis.

What's New at Candid (August 2019)

September 03, 2019

Candid logoAlthough it’s still officially summer, we've been busy here at Candid, releasing new research, continuing the consolidation of our regional offices, expanding our Funding Information Network, and more. If there's anything you'd like me to cover in these monthly updates, shoot me an email. My colleagues and I are anxious to hear your thoughts!

Project Highlights

  • In the wake of tragic mass shootings in California, Texas, and Ohio and newly urgent conversations about gun control and the Second Amendment, understanding the full impact of gun violence in America is imperative. Our IssueLab colleagues have created a Gun Violence Special Collection that brings together evidence and insights from nonprofits, foundations, and research organizations working to understand that impact. In 1996, the U.S. Congress passed an amendment to a spending bill that banned the Center for Disease Control (CDC) from using any of its budget for gun violence research, leading to a dearth of data that could help inform the gun control debate. In the more than twenty years since, the social sector has produced over two hundred reports that explore policy models, provide data and statistics, and examine a range of sub-topics. Feel free to reach out to the IssueLab team if you have questions about the resources in the collection.
  • The surge in fires in the Amazon basin is a fresh reminder of the destructive impact that humans can have on ecosystems that are critical to life on the planet. Philanthropy continues to support efforts to ensure the right to a clean, healthy, and sustainable environment, including the rights of Indigenous, marginalized, or other communities to the unspoiled natural resources that enable their survival; the right of Indigenous and marginalized communities to share in and determine the distribution of lands, territories, and resources; and the protection of these natural resources from destruction, overdevelopment, and/or pollution. To learn more about what funders are doing to support the environmental and resource rights of Indigenous and marginalized communities, check out this dashboard courtesy of the Advancing Human Rights initiative, a collaboration between Candid and the Human Rights Funders Network, in partnership with Ariadne: European Funders for Social Change and Human Rights and Prospera: International Network of Women's Funds.
  • Candid and the Human Rights Funders Network also have released a report that details foundation grantmaking for human rights globally. Conducted in partnership with Ariadne and Prospera, Advancing Human Rights: 2016 Key Findings highlights the scale and scope of funding for human rights, and sheds light on tough questions such as: Where is the money going? What are the gaps? And who is doing what?
  • CF Insights, a service of Candid, has launched the 2018 Columbus Survey Results Dashboard — the most up-to-date, comprehensive data set focused on financial trends and operational activity among community foundations in the United States. The data and findings provided in the dashboard are based on FY2018 survey responses provided by 251 community foundations and are supplemented by publicly available data.
  • Be sure to check out the new infographic on Foundation Funding for U.S. Democracy that looks what foundations to combat the decline in local journalism.

You can learn more about other projects we’ve been working on in the Gain Knowledge section of our website.

Thought Leadership Highlights

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Upcoming conferences and events

Our staff will be attending these upcoming events:

Candid in the News

For more coverage of Candid in the news, visit our press room.

Services Spotlight

Data Spotlight

  • Funding by a matched subset of grantmakers for environmental and resource rights grew by 39 percent in 2016, a sign of growing international pressure to address the challenge of climate change.
  • We completed a number of custom data searches for the University of New South Wales.
  • New data sharing partners include: Alzheimer's Disease Research Foundation, American Friends Service Committee, the Cape Cod Foundation, the Climate Justice Resilience Fund, the Paul and Phyllis Fireman Charitable Foundation, the Goizueta Foundation, the Greater Worcester Community Foundation, the Klarman Family Foundation, the Libra Foundation, the New Coast Foundation, the Richard and Susan Smith Family Foundation, the Washington Square Health Foundation, the Wettenhall Environment Trust, and the Women's Fund of Western Massachusetts. Tell your story through data so we can communicate philanthropy's contribution to making a better world — learn more about our eReporting program.

Jen Bokoff is director of stakeholder engagement at Candid.

Beyond the Dollar: Catalytic Philanthropy = Funds + Leverage

September 02, 2019

Coins-and-seedlingsFor as long as I have been working in the philanthropy field, New Zealand has been regarded domestically, and in international polling, as one of the most generous countries in the world. Based on comprehensive data captured in the Gallup World Poll for the period 2013-2017, last year's CAF World Giving Index placed New Zealand third on the list of most generous countries, behind Indonesia and Australia and ahead of the United States (fourth place) and the United Kingdom (sixth).

Each country is ranked for three behaviors:

  • Helping a stranger
  • Donating money
  • Volunteering time

Historically, these have been the ways we think about charity and philanthropy: giving by way of money or service, either in an immediate sense or, using a vehicle such as a charitable trust, donating money to specific causes or recipients in perpetuity.

Catalytic philanthropy is different, both more sophisticated and more focused on collaboration and measurement of return on investment, and is based on maximizing positive impact. Here is what it means for people and organizations in New Zealand:

1. Catalytic philanthropy represents a new approach to an age-old practice. The term describes the use of influence and leadership to leverage every dollar to the max. For instance, an organization with a corporate social responsibility program (say, an annual campaign in support of a bold-name charity) could be more strategic about increasing the impact of its giving by engaging with government and pressuring it to invest more in the charity’s area of interest, or by working harder with partners to garner more support for the charity.

In 2019, the scale of social need and urgency of the global climate crisis demands that we leverage our ability to give in much more practical and commercial ways than we have before. This is where catalytic philanthropy comes in: going beyond money to bring to bear every resource and partnership available to advance a cause or address a problem.

2. Silos are so twentieth century. The traditional model of philanthropy was adapted from the conduct of dynastic families like the Fords and Rockefellers in the early twentieth century. In the twenty-first century, the transparency demanded of charitable activity, combined with clear-cut social and environment concerns, gives the advantage to philanthropists and organizations that can think laterally and find inventive ways to extend their reach.

An example of this model is Foundation North, which employs what it calls "venture philanthropy" to engage other interested organizations and communities in finding solutions to complex social challenges. No longer is a single charity "responsible" for raising cancer awareness or cleaning the Hauraki Gulf; these days, we understand that we’re all in it together and that answers and funding have to be leveraged from a range of players to create long-term and sustainable impact.

Innovation is key to continually improving the impact philanthropy has on its intended cause or recipient. Under our founder Andrew Barnes' leadership, Perpetual Guardian established its own foundation, enabling donors, including those with more modest resources, to amplify the impact of their giving.

3. Money isn’t the be-all. Again, the old model was all about money: the more, the better. What we now understand through complex analyses such as those provided by JBWere is that the best social impact is not necessarily tied to the amount of money dedicated to a cause or issue but how adroitly it is used and tied to strong, measurable results. Catalytic philanthropy posits that the smartest giving is not the "biggest" giving; it’s the most strategic. And the most promising opportunity for today’s high-net-worth individuals is to build on the established charitable trust/foundation model to structure their giving in a highly strategic way.

4. Traditional trusts are becoming more sophisticated about ROI. New Zealand has over twenty-seven thousand registered charitable trusts, many of them set up decades ago by settlers who have since passed. In our business, we are starting to guide interested trustees toward a catalytic philanthropy model that follows the terms of the trust deed while taking advantage of progressive, collaborative developments in the sector.

An interesting impact investing example of this is the Stout Trust, which is well known for its work in the arts, heritage, and environment fields. This year, the trust will distribute $1.2 million to related causes, including predator-free work. Going beyond straightforward grant awards to investments that intentionally seek social or environmental impact alongside financial returns has become an increasingly important tool for trusts and foundations.

Impact investing has already demonstrated an impressive ability to harness the collective power of philanthropy, the private sector, and government at all levels. A prime example from the U.S. is the Detroit Home Mortgage Program, a collaborative effort between the Kresge and Ford foundations, a cadre of local banks, the City of Detroit (which was hard hit by the great financial collapse and the subsequent near-collapse of the U.S. auto industry), and the state of Michigan. The program is reviving the city’s decimated single-family housing market through a mix of grants, loans, and loan guarantees that ultimately enable buyers to purchase and renovate once-vacant homes.

Here in New Zealand, the NEXT Foundation established the Tomorrow Accord with the Government’s Department of Conservation. NEXT is a spend-down philanthropic fund of $100 million, and with the accord it is front-footing investment into pest eradication, with DoC agreeing to continue to fund those efforts in the future.

5. Businesses can define philanthropy in creative ways. Returning to the idea of creating a sphere of influence, business executives should be thinking outside the box in terms of creating social value alongside their immediate financial goals. Here at Perpetual Guardian we are working to advance the idea of a four-day, productivity-focused, reduced-hour model of work, which we regard as more suited to the demands of the twenty-first century workplace and lifestyle. In addition, we require each staff member to use, once a quarter, one of their personal days to engage in charitable or volunteer work. We’re also analyzing how staff can volunteer in ways that help them achieve even more for New Zealand communities.

Our efforts in this regard are about being strategic as an organization and leveraging the influence we have to increase our impact. There are many ways to do this, procurement being an obvious one; it is now commonplace for public- and private-sector organizations to seek out "green" options in technology, transport, and other services, which incentivizes service providers to think about and invest in climate-friendly initiatives.

Ultimately, catalytic philanthropy is a more comprehensive, encompassing, and sophisticated approach to a practice people have been engaging in for centuries. As experts in the field, we are enabling clients and communities at large to use resources in creative ways and to look beyond money to a more astute calculation of ROI – one that leverages the combined efforts of people and organizations to do the maximum amount of good at all levels of society.

Headshot_Liz GibbsLiz Gibbs is head of philanthropy at Perpetual Guardian. Over a career spanning twenty-five years, she has served as chief executive of Save the Children New Zealand and Philanthropy New Zealand and as head of foundation for Te Papa Tongarewa. Her current governance roles include deputy-chair of UNICEF New Zealand and board member at the Mediaworks Foundation.

5 Questions for...Kashif Shaikh, Co-Founder and Executive Director, Pillars Fund

August 27, 2019

Kashif Shaikh is co-founder and executive director of the Chicago-based Pillars Fund, a grantmaking organization that invests in American Muslim organizations, leaders, and storytellers in order to advance equity and inclusion. Established in 2010 as a donor-advised fund at the Chicago Community Trust with investments of $25,000 each from five Muslim-American philanthropists, the fund became an independent organization in 2016 with seed funding from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. To date, the fund has awarded $4 million in grants to small and midsize nonprofits to help ensure that American Muslims are able to thrive and live with dignity — and continue to have opportunities to contribute to civil society and public discourse.

PND asked Shaikh about the role of Muslim philanthropy in American society, the importance of supporting "culture work," and the fund’s current priorities.

Kashif_Shaikh_pillars_fundPhilanthropy News Digest: Your website states that the fund’s grantmaking "is inspired by Muslim tradition, which includes respect, conviction, sacrifice, action, and generosity." Why don't Muslim philanthropies and charities have a higher profile in the United States?

Kashif Shaikh: Giving of one's wealth, time, or effort is deeply embedded in the Muslim tradition. And in the United States, the earliest recorded example of Muslim giving was by enslaved Muslims, who in the nineteenth century distributed saraka in the form of small cakes to children on plantations off the coast of Georgia, continuing a tradition from West Africa. The word saraka is closely related to the word sadaqah, the Arabic word for "charity." This is important to acknowledge as we try to build on what generations of Muslims have already done in this land.

Three-quarters of Muslims in the United States today are immigrants or children of immigrants, and half of all U.S. Muslims arrived after 1970. Over the last fifty years Muslim communities put a lot of resources into building mosques and other communal spaces as they put down new roots here. A significant portion of this giving happened through informal networks rather than through established foundations and funds.

More recently, Muslim giving has been gaining greater visibility for a number of reasons. Many of our philanthropic and nonprofit institutions are relatively new to the scene. Among our grant applicants, 20 percent of the Muslim, Arab, and South Asian-led organizations were founded before September 11 and 80 percent were established on or after September 12, 2001. This tells us that many charitable efforts in our communities have been launched in response to the crises we faced. And, we've seen another burst of need  — as well as innovation — since the 2016 general election, which signaled another moment of crisis and "profiling" of our communities.

Unfortunately, many philanthropic efforts led by people of color have been historically overlooked and undervalued in this country. "Our issues" have not been seen as relevant to American society overall. More recently, however, attacks on the civil and human rights of Muslims in the U.S. have signaled a broader erosion of rights across communities. It has become increasingly clear to us that Muslim communities are going to have to coordinate our efforts to defend ourselves against these threats and work more closely with other impacted communities to protect ourselves.

At Pillars, we've recognized the need to target our resources, which includes funding those who are at the forefront of some of these challenges. As Muslims have entered more civic spaces and joined more networks and coalitions — and have been recognized for our work in doing so — our profile has been rising. We are intentional about raising our visibility because it is important for everyone to understand the role Muslims have played, and continue to play, in bettering society, whether through our philanthropic, cultural, or civic contributions.

PND: The fund works to achieve its goals through three program areas — grantmaking in support of "rights, wellness, and understanding"; empowering American Muslims to tell their own stories and ensure more accurate and authentic representations of Muslims in the media and culture; and providing thought leadership to foundations, think tanks, media, and civic leaders. Why is culture-focused work — for example, the multiyear public arts and oral history project you funded at Brooklyn Historical Society — so central to your efforts?

KS: Culture plays a tremendous role in shaping our beliefs about ourselves and others. Unfortunately, many people in the U.S. still hold a low opinion of Muslims, and much of that is rooted in the damaging narratives we’ve all been exposed to through popular culture, especially film and television, over many decades. If we want to shift how people perceive Muslims, we can't afford to ignore culture. Brooklyn Historical Society’s Muslims in Brooklyn oral history project, led by historian Zaheer Ali, empowers the borough’s Muslim communities to narrate a piece of New York City history. By listening to their stories, told in their own words, anyone can learn how Muslims have helped shape one of the world's most influential metropolises.

There is so much power in crafting and sharing your own story, which is why we are inspired by the oral history project. There is also a vast untapped reservoir of Muslim storytellers that we want to help organize and nurture. Muslims are one of the most racially and ethnically diverse faith communities in the U.S., and only when we appreciate the many perspectives within our community will we begin to understand what it means to be a Muslim in America. For example, the perspective of a newly arrived Syrian refugee could not be more different from the perspective of a fourth-generation African-American Muslim. We want to help create space to honor and share all of these stories.

PND: Has the current political climate in America changed the fund's priorities or the way it approaches its work?

KS: My co-founders and I established Pillars Fund because we observed that American Muslim communities were underresourced while being disproportionately targeted by harmful policies and widespread stereotyping that was feeding and reinforcing  bigotry and enabling those very policies to take hold in America. Particularly in the years since September 11, our community has been in a constant state of emergency, reacting to and mobilizing against new hate crimes, discriminatory policies, irresponsible news reporting, and biased cultural programming on a daily basis.

All of this work  has been essential to the health of our communities, but we've always known we needed to think beyond to the next twenty to thirty years. How will our communities function then? Are we cultivating the next generation of leaders and cultural producers? This is our focus, and we’ve tried to maintain that focus in the decade since our inception.

That said, the current political climate has changed the reality we're facing. As a young, evolving organization, we've tried to maintain our ability to respond to shifting dynamics. Under the current administration, we've had to contend with family separation and other humanitarian crises caused by the Muslim ban. But we're also looking at ways to support the many Latinx immigrants being rounded up by ICE [U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement] and separated from their children, and people whose families have been torn apart by other forms of mass incarceration. Family separation is a grotesque policy that we would stand against no matter who was being impacted, but it’s important to recognize that the U.S. Muslim population includes a vibrant and growing Latinx community. No person is defined by their faith alone, and it's important to recognize how the multiple identities each of us carries impacts our concerns and livelihoods.

PND: In 2018, the fund awarded  $800,000 in grants, most of which were less than $50,000. What's the theory of change behind your focus on awarding relatively modest grants to small and midsize nonprofits?

KS: There are hundreds of organizations working in or alongside Muslim communities in the U.S. Part of what makes Pillars Fund effective is our ability to assess the national landscape and identify where investments can accelerate progress toward a more just, equitable, and inclusive society. We want to give a boost to  organizations we see as doing pivotal work around the country, and this has required us to spread our resources over a relatively wide field.

Many of the nonprofits we work with are very small, and a grant of $50,000, $25,000, or even $10,000 is incredibly meaningful for organizations that are used to working with one full-time employee, an army of volunteers, or a budget of less than $100,000. A lot of our partner organizations are in the earliest stages of their development, and we can support them as they grow. In many cases, they are the people directly impacted by the issues they're working on. This isn't long-distance charity. In many cases we’re simply supporting them in doing the work they’d already be doing anyway.

In addition to awarding grant dollars, we’re always looking for ways to support our grantees' development through capacity building, which has included technical assistance with digital security, workshops and consultations on how to build their board and how to fundraise, communications support, and so on. This kind of wraparound support is something we’re committed to investing in even further in the years to come.

Pillars is building a community of Muslim grantee-partners, storytellers, and investors who share a broad vision, but each bring unique and important perspectives to our collective work. While I always see us contributing to a wide network of groups, I anticipate that the size of each grant will increase as our fund grows.

PND: Before helping to launch Pillars, you were a program officer at the Robert R. McCormick Foundation and were tasked with helping Chicago nonprofits scale their work at the intersection of racial justice, poverty, and education. As the executive director of an organization that partners with much larger national foundations — including the Ford, Kellogg, MacArthur, Nathan Cummings, and Open Society foundations — what is the most important lesson you have learned about collaboration?

KS: That's a great question. Perhaps the biggest lesson I’ve learned is that transparency is paramount. Everyone has their own interests and priorities, and it's important that you bring your individual mandates to the table when collaborating. This helps you avoid misunderstandings as the work progresses, and ensures that each organization is better positioned to accomplish its goals. Be transparent and communicate regularly to keep your collaboration on track.

I'll add this: the best advice I ever got about marriage is that it’s not really a 50/50 collaboration. Some days it's 90/10, and on others it's 40/60, and so on. Each organization brings its own value to a collaboration, and it doesn't always appear equal. What’s essential is to recognize what each of you brings, and to leverage and honor that contribution.

Kyoko Uchida

The Ice Bucket Challenge Multiplier: Driving Impactful Science Through Effective Research Funding Practices

August 23, 2019

ALSA_Cedar-Sinai Lab techsIn 2014, millions of people uploaded videos of themselves pouring ice water over their heads to raise awareness of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). ALS is a disease where motor neurons, the cells that control muscles, die. As those cells die, people lose their ability to walk, speak, move, and breathe. There is no cure; most people die within five years of diagnosis.

The Ice Bucket Challenge was a playful way to fight a horrific disease orchestrated by charismatic leaders who themselves have ALS — Pat Quinn and Pete Frates. And it worked. More than 17 million people posted videos to Facebook, raising over $200 million around the world. The ALS Association received $115 million, which was many times more than our annual operating budget.

The Ice Bucket Challenge was a "lightning strikes" moment with a lasting legacy. And as we've learned over the past five years, the challenge — and the funds it raised — serve as an important case study for research funding in general. With help from RTI International, an independent nonprofit research institute, we evaluated the impact of Ice Bucket Challenge spending on our own research program and have identified research funding practices that have proven effective.

First, the funds raised by the challenge helped support the ALS research infrastructure, enabling us to better coordinate clinical trials across the nation, share data and specimens with scientists at no charge, and identify new genes (five to date) that cause ALS. In 2014, we were able to support 42 principal investigators, and by the end of 2018 that support had grown five-fold, to 237 principal investigators. In addition, the number of researchers collaborating on ALS-related scientific papers has nearly doubled.

Supporting collaboration in all its forms — whether on studies, helping each other stay focused and productive, and unfettered sharing of resources and ideas — is imperative. The ALS research community is getting too big to rely on informal information exchange as the sole means of preventing wasteful duplication of effort. As our space grows in complexity, we need to ensure that we do not create silos or bottlenecks in the flow of resources and ideas. That means more collaboration, of the kind we have supported with Ice Bucket Challenge funds, is needed if we want to see more researchers working urgently and efficiently toward a cure for ALS.

Collaboration in the ALS space has already borne fruit. Some of the recent discoveries in ALS research simply would not have been possible without the infrastructure and collaboration we've supported. We were able, for example, to fund multiple gene studies and databanks that pooled information and talent. More than 250 scientists around the world analyzed over 100,000 samples to identify a new genetic link to ALS, the KIF5A gene. That work is critical, as each new gene discovery is a new opportunity to develop ALS treatments.

Collaboration also creates an imperative for transparency and accountability. When ALS charities are transparent about what they fund, scientists and other funders can better plan ahead. We post our funded awards here, and we are working on approaches to make it easier to track our funding and impact. We've also adopted open science practices that encourage aggressive sharing of work; things like sharing scientific papers with colleagues at no cost, publishing preprints (complete public drafts of scientific papers), and publicly pre-registering scientific protocols before research commences are key steps to moving us all forward.

Finally, RTI found our Ice Bucket Challenge spending served as an important "multiplier" of funding from other sources: as a direct result of the $40 million in Ice Bucket research funding we awarded, ALS scientists reported receiving an additional $122 million in follow-on grants from other funders, including the federal government.

That multiplier, both in terms of dollars spent on ALS and collaboration by scientists working on ALS, leads to faster research and additional discovery, which in turn creates greater impact. Looking ahead, we expect to see an increase in the number of drugs tested in clinic, an acceleration in the speed of those trials, and for these trials to result in new treatments. We will accept nothing less, as people who are living with ALS have no time to spare.  

Neil-Thakur-headshotThe Ice Bucket Challenge was a transformative gift from the world to the ALS community. It's a phenomenon with staying power that has created an important blueprint for research funding, one in which sharing and collaboration increase the pace of discovery and make all the difference in the world. It's up to us, the scientists and funders who fight ALS, to embrace that legacy and move even faster.

Neil Thakur, PhD, is executive vice president, mission strategy, the ALS Association.  

Less Hassle and Still Charitable: Why Projects Choose Fiscal Sponsorship

August 21, 2019

Fiscal_sponsorshipOne of the big trends we've noticed in both philanthropy and international development is increasing interest in funding different and new types of organizations. For many foundations, traditional public charities are not their first choice for investment. Instead, they are turning to international networks and partnerships that bring together diverse stakeholders, innovation platforms, funder collaboratives and re-granting funds, social enterprises, and short-term projects with a handful of staff.

As a result of this, we’re seeing many funders and project leaders consider the fiscal sponsorship model, which typically entails a project or small startup being "sponsored" by a larger tax-exempt organization with an aligned mission. The larger organization handles governance, financial management, and administration for the project it has agreed to sponsor, while the project (in many cases) pursues an independent strategy with semi-autonomous staff and its own advisors.

Since the Transparency and Accountability Initiative (TAI) transitioned to a U.S.-based fiscal sponsor in 2016, we have been repeatedly asked for advice by both project leaders and program officers. We’ve also watched as the fiscal sponsorship sector has grown. In the international development field, we’re even seeing the demand for fiscal sponsorship expand to other countries, most of which do not have legal frameworks in place to accommodate such a model.

Here in the U.S., the law currently supports a variety of models. In the model used by TAI, the sponsoring organization assumes responsibility for all tax filings, financial reporting, and legal compliance, including ensuring the charitable mission and activities of the project it is sponsoring. Typically the project is expected to contribute to the sponsoring organization’s overhead, abide by its policies, and report to its management and board. The exact terms of the arrangement usually are spelled out in a memorandum of understanding (MOU). The MOU often allows the project or startup to have its own steering committee to direct its strategy.

We are frequently asked about fiscal sponsorship and wanted to share some of the things you should consider before taking the plunge. (Nonprofit leaders may also want to consider how some of these factors are shaping organizational structures in their own fields.) Based on our own experience and what we’ve heard again and again from other projects that have gone this route, below are the top factors in deciding whether to pursue a fiscal sponsorship arrangement:

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Pediatricians Say Racism Is Devastating to Black Children — Let's Get to the Root Cause

August 19, 2019

Stop_racismIt's amazing how often the news media give big play to an academic report that tells us something black mothers already knew. Another example of the truism that nothing is considered real until white people discover or acknowledge it. Does that seem harsh? Consider the splashy coverage given to a recent policy statement from the American Academy of Pediatrics titled The Impact of Racism on Child and Adolescent Health (16 pages, PDF).

AAP's statement warns that the health dangers posed to children by racism "have become acute" and that racism, including racism experienced by the mother, "can have devastating long-term effects on children's health." It's received plenty of favorable news coverage.

But with all due respect, every black mother in America has known this for as long as there have been black mothers in America. And we didn't need an academic statement to tell us. Every precious baby to whom we have given birth over the course of the last four hundred years has come into a world that profoundly devalues black life.

What may be new to us is the devastating detail contained in the report: "The stress generated by experiences of racism may start through maternal exposures while in utero and continue after birth with the potential to create toxic stress. This transforms how the brain and body respond to stress, resulting in short- and long-term health impacts on achievement and mental and physical health. We see the manifestations of this stress as preterm births and low birth weights in newborns to subsequent development of heart disease, diabetes and depression as children become adults."

This should set off alarm bells across the black community, particularly among black mothers.

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Ten Years of Millennial Research: What I'd Do Differently

August 16, 2019

MillennialsIt's finally here — the final Millennial Impact Report, the culmination of a decade of research conducted by the Case Foundation and research teams I led into cause behaviors of the generation born between 1980 and 2000.

Any project of that magnitude — we interviewed more than 150,000 millennials, held hours and hours of focus groups, compiled and analyzed reams of data, and wrote volumes of narrative — begs the question: Would we do it all over again?

Absolutely — albeit with some tweaks based on what we've learned.

When we launched the project in 2008 — and over most of the next ten years — making assumptions about millennials seemed to be a favorite pastime of many of the people we interviewed or spoke to. We heard that millennials were lazy and more entitled than any  generation before them. They believed they deserved big salaries right out of college, and when reality hit they moved into their parents' basement (still the most enduring cliché about young Americans in this age group).

Put it all together and you got the biggest assumption of all: there was no way millennials would want to get actively involved in causes.

When we set out to learn about millennials, it wasn't to prove (or disprove) our own assumptions; it was to better understand their real motivations and behaviors. So we designed the research process to be an ongoing journey of discovery. I wouldn't change a thing about that.

But in looking back at our journey, there are some things I wish we had explored further:

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A Tale of Two Donations

August 15, 2019

Charitable-giftEarlier this year, I made a $15 donation to a small nonprofit and also pledged a planned gift, potentially worth six figures, to a huge charity. Guess which organization did a better job of followup?

Prompted by one of those "Thanks to a generous donor, all donations made TODAY will be matched!" appeals, I made the $15 donation online. As with most online donations, within minutes of pressing the "Donate" button I received an acknowledgment of my support.

But what was truly astonishing was what happened over the next two weeks: not only did I receive a written thank-you personally signed by the executive director by regular mail, I also received a phone call from a staffer thanking me for my generosity.

The potential six-figure planned gift was made in person, in the charity's office. I was there for a meeting and learned by happenstance that every time the organization was mentioned in a will or named as a beneficiary of a retirement fund, an anonymous donor would make a substantial gift to the group. I had long admired the charity's work, had made numerous gifts in support of its efforts in the past, and years ago had designated a percentage of my retirement account, upon my death, to its cause. With pleasure, I signed the pledge card, knowing that my potential future gift would also have an immediate impact on the organization's bottom line. I was thanked in person for my gift and was told I'd be invited to an event for those who had committed to making similar gifts.

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Family Funders: Always Important in Rural Communities

August 14, 2019

Washington-rpa-report-1200x675The history of the United States is a history of wealth created in rural America: timber and wood products in the Northwest and Northeast; fossil fuels in Appalachia, the Southwest and Rocky Mountain region; textiles in the South. Related philanthropic funds have been created alongside these industries — often in the form of multi-generational family commitments to rural communities. With the renewed focus today on the challenges and opportunities confronting rural America, it’s a good time to take a look at how rural philanthropy fits into the philanthropic field as a whole, as well as at how the evolving field of rural philanthropy is helping to support more and better philanthropic investments in rural communities.

One narrative about rural philanthropy holds that rural America has received far fewer philanthropic dollars over the years on a proportional basis. This is true. The best data we have indicates that rural philanthropic investment comprises just 7 percent of  total private foundation grantmaking, while rural America accounts for 20 percent of the U.S. population — and 90 percent of the land! An equally compelling narrative, however, is that rural-serving foundations — often family-governed — are a strong and consistent factor in helping rural communities face the future with a sense of optimism. Over the years, family foundations like the Blandin Foundation in Minnesota, the Ford Family Foundation in Oregon, the LOR Foundation in Wyoming, the Orton Family Foundation in Vermont, and the T.L.L. Temple Foundation in Texas have made long-term commitments to rural community success.

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Helping California Students Access College Financial Aid

August 09, 2019

FASA_appAs underserved communities continue to struggle, philanthropy is stepping up to ensure that nonprofits serving those communities are able to apply for and receive the support they so desperately need.

The Spark Grant program, a new initiative of the Michelson 20MM Foundation, aims to disrupt the slow and often opaque traditional foundation grant application process. The program gives organizations aligned with Michelson's mission a quick and easy way to apply for grants of up to $25,000. Unlike with a traditional grant, applicants to the Spark Grant program receive a decision on their proposals in just fifteen business days. The rapid turnaround makes Spark Grants particularly well suited to project-based initiatives designed to increase the number of underserved learners enrolled in postsecondary opportunities or help students earn a college or vocational credential that positions them for a well-paying job.

College Affordability

Michelson 20MM is passionate about making higher education more affordable for more people, particularly in this moment, when postsecondary education has never been more critical — or more expensive.

According to Sarah Goldrick-Rab, a professor of sociology at Temple University in Philadelphia, the rising cost of higher education puts college out of reach for many, if not most, students without some form of financial aid.

"The real price of attending college is higher than what colleges care to admit," says Goldrick-Rab. "The solution is making public colleges and universities accessible to everyone, like we do for high school, and operating under the assumption that everyone needs financial help."

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Building the Community We'd Like to See

August 08, 2019

Logo_BCYFPresident Trump recently made disparaging remarks about Baltimore that made headlines across the country. His comments stoked anger and outrage. He tarred Baltimore with a broad and reckless brush without offering even a token gesture of support from his administration.

This president has learned it is easy to throw stones. He hasn't learned how to pick up stones and build. Instead of tearing us down, Baltimore needs leaders at the state and federal levels who are committed to building.

Like many American cities, Baltimore struggles with the long-term consequences of disinvestment and segregation: aging infrastructure, dwindling resources, and too few opportunities for young people.

And so our city celebrated the creation of the historic Baltimore Children and Youth Fund as a beacon of hope and possibility, and as a commitment to the city's most important resource for the future: our young people.

BCYF was launched in 2015 by Mayor Bernard C. "Jack" Young, who was then the president of the Baltimore City Council. The fund was approved by voters in November 2016 with more than 80 percent support. The non-lapsing fund is supported through an annual set aside of property tax revenue.

Baltimore is only the third city in the nation to create such a fund, and it is the only fund of its kind that has included a racial equity and community participatory lens in grant selections. You will not find this sort of program anywhere in the country.

Why does this matter?

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Most Popular PhilanTopic Posts (July 2019)

August 02, 2019

It's August, and here on the East Coast the living is...steamy. Not to worry. Our most popular posts from July will cool you down and make you smarter....

Interested in contributing to PND or PhilanTopic? We'd love to hear from you. Drop us a note at Mitch.Nauufts@Candid.org.

Black Wealth 2020 Adds HBCUs to Its Economic Empowerment Agenda

August 01, 2019

1515184852588The short-term economic impact of historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) is $15 billion — rivaling that of corporations such as Bank of America and its more than 177,000 employees.
 
Yet according to the U. S. Department of Education, approximately 60 percent of all black college students have no expectation of a family financial contribution to their education. That's far lower than that for whites, for whom the number is approximately 30 percent. And it's approximately 48 percent for Latinos and 38 percent for Asians.
 
The economic impact of HBCUs, their struggle to stay afloat, and the dire financial disparities faced by HBCU students are the reasons that Black Wealth 2020, a catalyst for black economic equality, recently decided to add HBCUs as a forth leg to its three-pronged approach to growing black wealth (the others are black-owned businesses, black banks, and black homeownership).
 
"We've got to keep on pushing this agenda. And hooking up with HBCUs is a big way of doing that," said Michael Grant, former president of the National Bankers Association and a founder of Black Wealth 2020 in a meeting just before the principals voted unanimously to acknowledge HBCUs as being "central to strengthening the American economy."
 
"If we're serious about building black wealth," Grant added, "how can we not have a focus on our youth and the next generation?"
 
The expansion of the organization's vision was inspired, in part, by a presentation by Dr. Lezli Baskerville, president/CEO of the National Association for Equal Opportunity in Higher Education and a principal of Black Wealth 2020.

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What's New at Candid (July 2019)

July 30, 2019

Candid logoWhenever someone asks me how things are going with our newly minted Candid, I honestly reply "it's never dull!" There are a lot of moving pieces as we develop our Candid 2030 strategy while continuing to share insights on everything from human rights funding to our nonprofit data profiles. After you've read through this update, please shoot me an email about what you'd like to hear from us going forward.

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Candid in the News

I was honored to author two articles recently, one in the Chronicle of Philanthropy on lifting up philanthropy's unheard voices and another in Alliance magazine on a powerful learning experience many of us had at the recent United Philanthropy Forum conference. Candid also has been featured in several recent articles:

To check out more mentions of Candid in the news, see our press page.

Services Spotlight

Data Spotlight

  • The performance of the U.S. Women's National Soccer Team at the 2019 World Cup has generated renewed interest in gender-based pay-discrimination and equal pay for women. Take a look at how funders are supporting equality rights and freedom from discrimination for marginalized groups, including more than $84 million in grants for Women and Girls.
  • Data collected through the U.S. Census every ten years is a key factor in the distribution of more than $675 billion in federal funding. In advance of the 2020 census, foundations have joined forces with advocates and census experts to help support an accurate count. We've identified 53 grants, ranging from $5,000 to $3 million, awarded since 2011 that reference the census. Learn more here.
  • The number of eBooks checked out in June was 123, bringing the total number of eBook checkouts over the life of the program to 1,746. In addition, the number of eBook user registrations in June was 86, bringing the total to 1,253. We now have 209 eBooks in our collection, including 183 unique titles.
  • We completed custom data searches for the Center for Effective Philanthropy, the Community Foundation of Hawaii, the Federal Reserve of St. Louis, the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy, the National Endowment for the Arts, and School of Philanthropy and Public Policy at the University of Southern California.
  • Last but not least, we welcomed ten new data sharing partners in June: the Beverly Jackson Foundation, the Fouress Foundation, the Greater Kanawha Valley Foundation, the Lynch Foundation, the Michigan Humanities Council, Proteus Action League, the Michael Reese Health Trust, the Sisters of Charity Foundation of Canton, Warsh-Mott Legacy, and the WCA Foundation. Tell your story through data so we can communicate philanthropy's contribution to making a better world — learn more about our eReporting program.

If you found this update helpful, feel free to share it or shoot us an email. I’ll be back next month with another update.

Jen Bokoff is director of stakeholder engagement at Candid.

Native Wisdom: A Review of Edgar Villanueva’s 'Decolonizing Wealth'

July 26, 2019

Cover_decolonizing_wealthIn his book, The Wretched of the Earth, published in 1961, Frantz Fanon noted what he considered to be the necessary conditions for the overthrow of colonialism: "To tell the truth, the proof of success lies in a whole social structure being changed from the bottom up." He added that "establishing a social movement for the decolonization of a person and of a people" was critical in disrupting the legacy of colonialism.

Almost sixty years later, Edgar Villanueva picks up on Fanon's call to action in his book Decolonizing Wealth. In the book, Villanueva places a spotlight on how colonialism has been perpetuated and stresses the importance of eliminating it from circles of wealth and, in particular, philanthropy, making it perhaps the most refreshing and insightful of the recent spate of books on foundations.

Villanueva is a rare combination: both a grantmaker and a member of the Lumbee Tribe, one of eight state-recognized Native American tribes in North Carolina. Drawing on Native American wisdom, he presents an eye-opening prescription for how foundations can dismantle the unequal power dynamic that historically has separated funders from the nonprofit organizations they support. Invoking the understanding common among indigenous people of medicine as "a way of achieving balance," he outlines what he terms "Seven Steps to Healing" — Grieve, Apologize, Listen, Relate, Represent, Invest, and Repair — with the caveat that the steps are less a checklist for funders to complete than an invitation to them to embark on a journey of "decolonization."

Differentiating himself from many of philanthropy's contemporary critics, Villanueva does readers a great service by focusing their attention on the grantmaking process. It's hardly a secret that change in the ways foundations operate is long overdue. What's so refreshing about Villanueva's approach is his application of a decolonization lens to that call to action, drawing on his own experience as a member of the Lumbee, the very first people on the North American continent to experience directly the arrival of and subsequent colonization by Europeans. In the process, he reminds readers that white supremacy on the North American continent has its origins in the 1400s and establishes the connection between that long, shameful legacy to current organized philanthropic practices. His blueprint for addressing that legacy offers a powerful set of arguments as to why those most impacted by the activities of foundations should be more involved in foundations' decision-making processes and why foundation officials have to go beyond their current practices and take steps to bridge the divide between grantmakers and grantees.

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Changing the Way Candid Serves You

July 23, 2019

ZBlog 2 Option 2Announcing Foundation Center and GuideStar had joined forces was just the beginning — now the real work of being Candid has started. We're busy combining operations on a number of fronts, and starting up new and exciting projects, too. I mentioned one of our most important initiatives in a previous post: the transition from our four regional library centers to our 400+ Funding Information Network (FIN) partner locations. We've received some thoughtful questions about what this evolution might mean for you.

What's happening to Candid's libraries?

We're not changing whom we serve, we're changing how we serve.

We've been around a long time, and over the years we've heard feedback from people who have struggled with our metro locations in terms of accessibility, hours, and parking fees and availability. Our current footprint of library locations in specific metro areas also locks our teams in to commitments behind the desk. Plus, now that we've become Candid, we have two offices in both the San Francisco Bay Area and Washington, D.C.

ZBlog 4 Option 1By the end of 2019, our Bay Area and Washington, D.C., offices will have been combined so that we have one office each in Oakland and D.C., while our Atlanta and Cleveland teams will be operating out of co-working or partner sites. We will no longer provide in-person library services at these locations, but you will still be able to get all of your questions answered through in-person trainings with our partner network and online services (more on this below).

Our largest office and library in New York will continue to operate in its full current form (still providing library services and trainings). We'll also begin experimenting with local programming close to Williamsburg, Virginia, where a large contingency of Candid team members are based.

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Drive Commitment and Change With 'Moments'

July 18, 2019

Ripple-effectOrganizations are always on the lookout for strategies that can help them engage supporters or build their movements. When I interact with an organization or cause that is seeking to build a constituency, I like to ask two questions:

  1. What’s the next milestone you are working toward?
  2. What are you doing right now to increase your supporter base in advance of that milestone? 

A few definitions here will be helpful:

  • A milestone is an incremental achievement that leads to a "moment" within a movement. The milestone Is achieved by the community working together.
  • A moment is a one-time (or short-term) convergence of actions, informal or organized, that is fueled by cultural, political, and/or social events leading to a surge of individual participation and self-organizing by supporters.
  • An issue or cause is an existing state of affairs (societal, environmental, political) recognized by society as contrary to its values but that can be improved by people working together and taking advantage of community resources.

As a leader of a mission-driven organization, your work is to break new ground for your issue or cause. You’re the visionary always on the lookout for that movement-altering moment when public awareness, supporter engagement, and a broader narrative of progress come together to create progress.

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Open Educational Resources: A Viable Alternative in a Changing Landscape

July 17, 2019

Online_texbooksIn May, two of the textbook market's biggest publishers, Cengage and McGraw-Hill Education, announced plans to merge. The merger will lead to the formation of a new company, McGraw Hill, with a market cap of $8.5 billion, rivaling publishing giant Pearson for dominance of the textbook market. Currently, a mere five publishers control more than 80 percent of that market, and the creation of McGraw Hill will further reduce competition.

With textbook prices rising year after year, a merger of this magnitude could spell disaster for students. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, textbook prices increased 88 percent between 2006 and 2016. Given the growing monopolization of the textbook market, alternative modes of access such as open educational resources are becoming an urgent priority for schools and students across the country.

Inclusive Access: Part of the Problem

As textbook publishers have seen sales of their print materials decline, they have turned to a new subscription-based model called "inclusive access," in which students pay a flat fee to access educational materials. Inclusive access has been likened to the streaming model increasingly popular in other media, including movies (Netflix) and music (Apple Music). The consumer is no longer purchasing a product but rather digital access to a product for a set period of time.

Publishers tout two major benefits of the inclusive-access model. The first is its ability to provide students with access to educational materials on the first day of class. In the traditional model, students often are forced — due to economic pressures — to wait until after they've received their financial aid packages to order physical textbooks. Inclusive access sidesteps this problem by incorporating the charge as a course fee via the school's billing system.

The second benefit, according to publishers, is that it delivers a "win" for affordability. Students pay a single per-semester fee ranging between $100 and $150 (depending on the publisher). In theory, the fee covers all educational materials used by the student. While the cost may seem reasonable, at least initially, that reasonableness rests on the assumption that instructors will only use materials available through the inclusive access system. If, however, an instructor decides to exercise her academic freedom and chooses a text outside a publisher's inclusive access catalog, an additional financial burden is placed on her students. One can easily imagine a scenario where two of a student's four classes are "inclusive access" and the other two are not, requiring the student to pay for additional texts on top of the per-semester inclusive access fee.

Cengage recently introduced Cengage Unlimited, a platform dedicated to inclusive access that charges $119.99 a semester for access to Cengage's digitized back-catalog. In 2018, McGraw-Hill Education significantly expanded the implementation of its own inclusive-access model. If past trends are any indicator, the price tag associated with both catalogs will increase dramatically post-merger.

The inclusive-access model raises not only pricing concerns but also concerns with respect to student data and privacy. As publishers gravitate toward the model, they are beginning to collect large amounts of data and analytics about students. Indeed, groups like the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition (SPARC) have raised concerns that this data collection — which can include a student's physical location, study habits, and data related to individual learning outcomes — poses privacy risks.

Open Educational Resources: A Viable Alternative?

There is a better alternative. Open educational resources (OER) are freely licensed materials that reside in the public domain and can include textbooks, full courses, tests, software, and more. As the materials are free to use and can be accessed at any time, there is no concern about students not having access on the first day of class. And because the materials can be accessed free of charge, OER delivers on the promise of affordability.

Even better, OER seems to improve student outcomes, with studies attributing a more than 12 percent increase in grades for Pell-eligible students who use open educational resources. When coupled with the fact that 17 percent of underrepresented minority students indicate that the cost of educational materials has forced them to withdraw from a course, OER is the right choice at the right time for today's college students.

With the recently announced merger between two of the largest textbook publishers in the country, concern is growing that prices on all materials provided by publishers, including inclusive access materials, will rise. But if policy makers, educational institutions, and faculty take steps to invest time and money into the creation of high-quality OER, the grip that publishers have on educational materials will weaken. In turn, a higher OER adoption rate will render mergers and the worry about potential price hikes increasingly irrelevant.

Philanthropy can play a role in supporting the expansion of OER and lowering the costs of textbooks. By investing in the field, foundations and other donors can help provide students with access to educational materials and spur their academic success. Foundations such as the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, the Lumina Foundation, and the Michelson 20MM Foundation are just a few examples of philanthropies that have funded the growth of OER in recent decades. The field is ripe with opportunity for additional leadership.

Headshot_ryan_Erickson_Kulas_philantopicRyan Erickson-Kulas is program officer of open educational resources at the Michelson 20MM Foundation.

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